Sylas Elliott has put a lot of work into his golf game over the years. The Cullman High senior has especially ratcheted up his level of play in the past few months, securing victories at the Buck Shear Memorial Tournament, as well as the Elks Junior County Championship.
Suffice to say, Elliott has been on fire.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Bearcat No. 1 stayed fully ablaze at TP Country Club, shooting an even-par round of 72 to take the lead at the Alabama Junior Golf Association Open Championship.
Elliott’s round was tops in the 16- to 19-year-old division, which consists of 30 juniors golfers from all corners of the state. Close behind is Cold Springs’ Layne Rice, whose round of 73 left him just one shot back of the defending champion entering today’s final round of play.
Good Hope’s Eli Marty shot a 74 and sits tied in third place with Cordova’s Brent Borden and Albertville’s Chip Willoughby.
“I played good today,” Elliott said. “I really putted well, too. Made a lot of up and downs to save some pars in my round. I’m glad to be in contention for sure.”
After firing a one-under 35 on the front nine, Elliott began the back side with three straights pars. He then dropped a shot at the par-4 13th hole after missing the fairway with his driver.
Like many other tough courses, TP demands its players find the fairway — or else pay a steep penalty.
“The rough is tall right now,” Elliott said. “You can’t do anything out of it. With the greens being slick, you’ve got to keep the ball in play out there.”
When Elliott wasn’t making putts, he was scaring the hole. He had lip-outs on holes 15 and 16 before finishing his round with a five-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.
If the Black and Gold star wants to make it back-to-back titles and secure his third overall, he’ll have to follow up Tuesday’s solid round with one just as good — if not better — today.
“I’m just going to go out and try to play as well as I have all year,” he said. “The course is in great shape, and I’m looking forward to playing.”
Nipping at his heels is Rice, who came into the tournament as the frontrunner for AJGO’s Boys’ 16-19 Player of the Year. A bang-up final day could all but lock up the accolade for the Cold Springs’ senior.
It was a tale of two sides for Rice, who took an early lead with a 2-under 34 on his first nine holes, only to falter a bit down the stretch.
“I played very well on the front today,” he said. “I hit the ball great, and my putter was definitely on. Just had some holes on the back nine that kind of screwed up my round.”
With two honors on the line for Rice, the Eagle golfer said he feels like he has a bit more to play for this time around.
“I want to win it,” he said of the Player of the Year award. “It gives me a lot of incentive to go out and play well on Wednesday.”
Asked if he wanted to best his good friend Elliott, Rice let out a laugh before simply stating, “Oh, yeah.”
Other local golfers to take part in the 16-19 division include Fairview’s Trey Hanvey (76), Cullman’s Lee Mattox (79) and Colby Sandlin (80).
More than 90 golfers came out for the Open Championship on Tuesday, much to the delight of TP club director Patrick Drake, who’s been a staunch advocate of getting more people — especially juniors — involved in the game.
“We love our golf out here,” he said. “It’s great to see the course filled up with all these golfers. I especially take a lot of pride in guys like Layne, Sylas and Eli. Our local kids are coming out here and competiting with kids from all over the state.”
Today’s final round will kick off around 8:30 a.m. Following play, champions will be crowned in seven divisions. The AJGO will also named its players of the year.
After one round, the top three in the boys 13-and-under division are: Jack Blair, of Auburn, 5-over; Hunter Battles, of Decatur, 10-over; and James Harvest, of Birmingham, 11-over.
The top three in the boys 14-15 division are: Reagan Harrell, of Guntersville, 4-under; Sam Murphy, of Decatur, 3-under; and Gauge Cornelius, of Luverne, 2-over.
The top three in the girls 15-19 division are: Anna Fassnacht, of Killen, 10-over; Beth Ann Compton, 12-over; and Syndey Turner, of Montgomery, 17-over.
Scores for the girls 14-and-under division were not available.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.