BOYS LEADERBOARD CROWDED AT THUNDERBIRD INTERNATIONAL JUNIOR
Choe leads Girls Division by two heading into final round
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Arizona natives Tim McKenney of Scottsdale and Richard Lee of Chandler did their part to keep the Thunderbird International Junior title in state, erasing the lead of first-round leader Rory Hie of Lakewood, Calif., to create a three-way tie entering the final round. Esther Choe, also of Scottsdale, Ariz., sits two shots clear of the field in the Girls Division after a 4-under-par 68.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the seventh annual Thunderbird International Junior is being held at Grayhawk Golf Club on the Raptor Course. The par-72 course is set up at 7,113 yards for the Boys Division and 6,271 for the Girls. The tournament field consists of 48 boys and 36 girls, ages 12-18, from 16 states, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, Sweden and Taiwan.
McKenney set the pace early with seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch to jump to the top of the leaderboard. McKenney added birdies on Nos. 16 and 18 en route to firing the low round of the day with a 6-under-par 66.
“My irons were close all day long and I was able to convert with the putter,” McKenney, 18, said. “It's a good tournament to be leading. I have a lot of friends and family here.”
Hie carded a 1-over-par 73 to maintain a share of the lead, while Lee used a solid short game to post his second consecutive 3-under-par 69 to stay in contention.
Jamie Lovemark of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., is alone in fourth place at 68-71—139. Arnond Vongvanij of Bradenton, Fla., rounds out the top five at 69-71—140.
Choe, competing in her third Thunderbird International Junior, birdied two of her closing three holes to card a bogey-free 68 and earn a two-shot lead over Isabelle Lendl of Bradenton, Fla., who shot a 3-under-par 69.
“I just relaxed today and had a lot of fun,” Choe said. “It would mean a lot to win this event. It's one of the strongest fields in junior golf and one of the most prestigious AJGA tournaments.”
Kimberly Kim of Pahoa, Hawaii, and Stephanie Kono of Honolulu are tied for third place, four shots off the lead.
The Thunderbird International Junior annually attracts the top junior golfers in the world with 52 Rolex Junior All-Americans present this year. Past champions of the event include Virada Nirapathpongporn, Ryan Moore, Casey Wittenberg, Brittany Lang, Rob Grube and Morgan Pressel.
The American Junior Golf Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf. The largest Association of its kind, the AJGA has a junior membership (boys and girls ages 12-18) of approximately 5,000 junior golfers from 50 states and 30 countries.
Titleist, the AJGA's National Sponsor, has been the catalyst and driving force behind the Association's success since 1989. Rolex Watch USA, which enters its third decade of support, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004.
AJGA alumni have risen to the top of amateur, collegiate and professional golf. More than 160 former AJGA juniors currently play on the PGA and LPGA Tours and have compiled more than 300 wins. AJGA alumni include Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Mike Weir, Charles Howell III, Jim Furyk, Dottie Pepper, Grace Park, Cristie Kerr and Beth Bauer.
Final-round tee times will run from 7:15 — 9:12 a.m. off Nos. 1 and 10 on the Raptor Course. For more information on the Thunderbird International Junior, please contact tournament headquarters at (480) 502-3181.