By Robert Gautney
After a 5-under-par 67 on the Mifflin-Buena Vista golf course Saturday, Rich Gilkey will start today's final round of the Men's Kern County Amateur Championship at the Haggerty-North Kern golf course with a three-stroke lead.
But more than just a win in the biggest and most prestigious local men's amateur golf tournament will be at stake.
You see, should Gilkey, a 21-year-old senior at Fresno State, hold on and win the 61st annual tournament, he would join is father Richard as a winner of this event and they would become the only father-son combo to ever accomplish the feat. The senior Gilkey, who is his son's caddy for the tournament, won back-to-back in 1983-84.
"Nothing like putting a little more pressure on me," Rich joked after being told of the possible history. "It would be really cool to join my dad as a winner and I know he will be thinking of that, but I've just got to go out there and play my game, make some birdies and not give anything away."
Basically, something like Saturday's opening round, when Gilkey molded seven birdies around two bogeys in his 67. He leads Brady Baguio and M.J. Morin, who each carded 70s. They were the only players to break par in the 39-player field while Ron Killmer is the only player at even-par 72.
Gilkey's round took off midway through the outward nine when he made a 16-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth hole, then back-to-back 30-plus foot putts for birdie on Nos. 7 and 8. That pushed him to 3-under and another birdie on the par-5 11th put him at 4-under before a bogey cooled his run on the short, par-4 12th.
"I'd like to have that hole back," said Gilkey of the 12th, "but I rebounded with birdies on 16 and 17 so overall I played pretty solid."
Baguio, who got his amateur status back earlier this year after being a pro for a few years, said the course and the greens in particular were the best he has ever seen them.
"The greens were rolling fast," said Baguio. "They were smooth, but a little deceptive. But if you hit a good putt you were rewarded."
Baguio was rewarded on Nos. 4, 10, 11 and 15 with birdie putts. His two bogeys came on two of the par-3s, the sixth and 17th, and he knows it will be tough to catch Gilkey.
"He shot a 67, so he is playing well," said Baguio of Gilkey. "But at least I'm playing with him and M.J. so I will know how they are doing. I just have to make a few birdies to get going to put some pressure on them and see what happens."
Morin chipped in for birdie on the first hole, then made back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes and felt a low round in the making, but he made bogeys on the sixth and seventh holes to drop back to 1-under.
"After the fourth I thought if I made another birdie on the (par-5) fifth I would be sitting well for a low round, but I made par on the fifth (par-5) and after the bogeys I just had to settle down and get back to making good swings." said Morin of his hot start.
Birdies on 14 and 15 on the inward nine put Morin at 3-under-par, but another bogey, this time a three-putt variety on the 17th, put a damper on his round.
"I three-putted from 12 feet," said Morin of the bogey on 17. "I was just too aggressive with my birdie putt and lipped out the par putt coming back. But I'm still in it. It will probably take a 67 or 68 to have a chance but that's possible out there (North Kern)."
Bill Frankhouser, Jr., Neil Bautista and Matt Hammons each shot 73 and are tied for fifth while Blake McPherson, D.J. Fernando, Jeff Acebedo, Dan Hogan, Chris Holloway and Vance Manning shot 74 and are tied for 8th. Defending champion Scott LaBare shot 3-over-par and is in a group of four players at 75.
In the race for the 2012 Michelob Ultra/Sports Authority Player of the Year title, Acevedo has 73 points followed by Killmer with 54 and Baguio with 43. All three have a chance to win the award which will be handed out at the completion of the tournament today.
There is no charge for admission in today's final round at North Kern. The final group will tee off around 11 a.m.