Fantastic Finish In Store?

Munoz Leads, But 13 Players Still Within Six Shots

With his caddy looking on, Willy Wilcox lines up a putt during the third round of the LECOM Health Challenge on Saturday on the Upper Course at Peek’n Peak Resort. Wilccox fired a 65 and is within six shots of the leader. Below, a tournament official is called in to make a ruling. P-J photos by Mark L. Anderson

FINDLEY LAKE — Moments after sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to take the outright lead at the LECOM Health Challenge on Saturday at The Upper Course at Peek’n Peak Resort, Sebastian Munoz removed his cap and flashed a bright smile to the gallery, which responded with a wave of applause.

“It’s nice. I feel like it’s really honest and I appreciate that and it got me,” said Munoz, who was able to recover from the left-side rough on the final hole of the day before draining the side-hill putt to finish at 18-under-par for the tournament, one stroke in front of both Kyle Jones and Nelson Ledesma.

The round of 65 came after a difficult start to the day for the 25-year-old, who stood at 1 over through seven holes after picking up a bogey at the par-4 sixth.

Munoz’s recovery began shortly after being saddled with that extra stroke, as the Colombian was able to take advantage of a well-hit tee-shot at the par-5 eighth hole, setting up a chance for an eagle.

“Hit a great drive, the wind was a little in, and I think I had 289 to the pin,” said Munoz. “You know I talked to my caddy like we weren’t really going to go for it, but nothing was really happening. It was a great swing, and the ball pitched perfect. I had a 15-footer from the first cut and it just happened to go in. Today we had less intensity in the wind, and it was easier to maneuver the ball, and that helped me out.”

Hank Labioda gives a thumbs-up sign while walking to the next tee box during the third round of the LECOM Health Challenge on Saturday. P-J photo by Mark L. Anderson

Following that eagle, Munoz grabbed his first birdie of the day at the ninth, and from there on out it was hard for the young man to miss much.

More red numbers at the 10th, 11th and 12th would make it four straight birdies for Munoz and a combined six strokes under par in five holes.

“I had a few looks that I could’ve made birdies and didn’t make them, and then had a bogey so it’s always frustrating. You think it might not be my day. I wasn’t negative at all, I just hit three great shots on eight and completely flipped the switch,” said Munoz.

When it came time to cinch up the outright lead heading into today’s final round, there was no panic from the Bogota native on the 18th green with the rest of the field watching.

“I kind of just pictured the line when I was walking, the first time that I saw it, and I just want to hit it right now. It’s one of those that you just kind of instinctively know you are going to make, I just want to hit it,” he said of the final putt.

This afternoon Munoz will be the last to tee off at 1:15 p.m. alongside Jones, whose red-hot round of 63 has him just one shot off the lead.

After a 3-under-par 33 on the front, Jones was also able to take advantage of the scoring conditions available on the final nine holes.

The Baylor University product strung together six more birdies for a 30 through the last nine holes, including birdies at the reachable par-4 12th and the 200-yard 15th hole.

While several players had struggled late in the day at the 15th with a front right pin placement at the base of a slope, Jones and Munoz were both able to use the hill to their advantage.

“It was nice to do it today because this year I think I’ve kind of struggled on Saturday, trying to move up on the leaderboard,” said Jones. “So today it was nice to get that done. You see the scoring and I guarantee it’s going to be like that tomorrow as well, so just keep the pedal to the metal.”

Taking to the tee shortly before the final pair will be Ledesma and Roger Sloan, who sits in a tie for fourth with Hank Lebioda at 14-under-par.

On his final hole of the day, Ledesma had a chance to enter the clubhouse at 18-under-par for the tournament despite opting to lay-up on the closing par-5.

The Argentine was left with a slippery downhill putt for his birdie, ultimately getting the speed right but pulling that effort left of the hole.

An uneventful opening 35 on the first nine holes by Lebioda looked poised for a turnaround following a hot start to the back nine.

A co-leader entering the day, Lebioda hit his approach shot on the par-4 10th to within 10 feet for an easy birdie, before an astonishing recovery out of the left-side rough at the par-5 11th that resulted in a mid-range putt for eagle.

That fire was stamped out, however, as the southpaw finished his round with six pars and a bogey to end the day with a 69.

Playing alongside the 24-year-old was Rochester native and tour veteran Dudley Hart, who now sits at 13-under-par for the tournament after entering the day as a co-leader and finishing with a 70.

While Hart has been able to keep his head above water amidst some imperfect play, he knows that things will need to be razor sharp if a push today is going to be possible.

“Hopefully tomorrow I can square away some ball striking, get the ball in the fairway a little bit more, which will give me some better chances, and I can be a little bit more aggressive from that fairway grass than from the rough,” said Hart.

Hart may continue to look for improvement from his game, but there is no doubt that the veteran enjoys taking to the course with his years of experience against some younger competition.

“It’s fun. They probably look at me as a grandpa or something. I’m so old compared to these kids,” said Hart. “(Hank) could have been my son easily, but we just have a good time. We all have something in common. We all love golf, we love to compete, so no matter what your age is I think we all respect each other and what we’re trying to do.”