Eric Straub looked to be in control early at the Rolling Hills State Farm Men's Invitational on Saturday, opening his round with birdies on the first three holes on his way to a 6-under 66 first-day score. But by the end of the day, he had company atop the leaderboard.
Straub birdied the ninth hole, made the turn at 5-under-par, and managed one more birdie on the back nine seemingly on cruise control.
"I hit it really well today and I birdied the first three holes," Straub said. "That made it a lot of fun out there. I love the new greens. They're already rolling smooth and they're just going to get better."
But Straub's lead was short-lived as Josh Rhodes, a past winner of the tournament, sank an eagle putt on the 18th hole to lock Straub into a tie.
Rhodes bogeyed the ninth to drop to 2-under at the turn but managed to catch fire and get to the par-5 18th tee just two strokes back. His drive of well over 300 yards put him in perfect position to hit the green in two and then sink the eagle putt.
Murray State's Avery Edwards carded a 3-under 69 and it was inches from being even closer as an eagle putt wobbled away on the ninth hole.
"It hit a tiny little bump at the very end and pushed it away," Edwards said.
Both Straub and Rhodes know not to count Edwards or any of the other top players out in any tournament. The top tier of the Championship flight includes Justin Gosa (70), Chris Griffin (71) and Adam Finke (72), all of whom can go low at any time.
Straub's game plan for the final round today is simple. "One shot at a time," he said. "I can birdie any hole at any time. I have to stay patient, stay in the present." While the Championship flight is up for grabs, so is the First Flight with six players at par or under led by Chris Gregory's 5-under 67. Greg Beale, Aaron Bryant and Johnny Shock are all two shots back at 69, followed by Adam Butler and Andrew Walker at 72.
Greg Ford is in command of the Second Flight after shooting a 4-under 68, well ahead of Jason Bell (74) and John Howard (75). Danny Allen and Todd Murdoch have only one stroke separating them in the Third Flight with three more players just two more strokes back.
The State Farm Rolling Hills Invitational always includes a senior division. This year's event drew enough seniors to include Senior Flight A, led by Wayne Ramey's 1-over 73 with Tommy Thomas and Ted Turner nipping at his heels with 75s. The Senior B flight is also close with Bruce Bell in the lead by two strokes over Jeff Holland and four strokes over Bob Anderson and Walter Taylor.