SAN JACINTO, California—On a day when the stroke average at the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament was 76.163 on the par-72 Soboba Springs Golf Club, Jeffrey Kang shot a 67. With players making 458 bogeys during a cold, windy Southern California day, Kang contributed exactly zero to that total.
It was that impressive a day by the former USC golfer, using those remarkable numbers to finish at 7-under through 54 holes, a score that gives him a commanding three-shot advantage over a quartet of players—amateur Briggs Duce, Joseph Harrison, Blake Cannon and George Markham. The tournament champion earns exemptions into every 2021 Mackenzie Tour tournament.
Playing Soboba Springs’ back nine first, Kang was workmanlike, sandwiching seven pars around birdies on his first and ninth holes. He added three more birdies on the back, his 67 matching Norman Xiong for the low round of the tournament. He also did all this damage with a new putter he put in the bag Thursday morning.
“I switched to one of the old putters I used to use. It’s an Odyssey 7. It’s probably been a year since I’ve used it, but I’ve been putting so bad the last two days that it was a good change,” Kang said.
The putter brought immediate results when Kang rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on his first hole, a harbinger of things to come. He was the only player in the field to go bogey-free.
“Everything (I made) was about 15 feet and in. I just made a lot more 10- and 15-footers today,” Kang observed. “I missed so many of them [Wednesday] and the day before. Today I didn’t miss any of those. That was kind of the big difference from the first two rounds.”
Kang’s stellar play at Soboba Springs should come as no surprise. Last week, he played in a 54-hole Swing Thought Tour event here and used rounds of 70-64-70 to finish second, four shots behind Chad Hambright. Kang is knocking on the door to win again as he looks to close the deal Friday, with warmer weather predicted. He’ll have to hold off the four who are immediately behind him, along with former Stanford star Jeffrey Swegle, current Mackenzie Tour member Shintaro Ban and amateur Ethan Casto, all at 3-under and four shots behind.
Duce, the 36-hole leader, didn’t have his best stuff Thursday, shooting a 2-over 74 after opening with a pair of 69s but remained both philosophical and hopeful.
“I was scrambling the whole day. The wind was really tough to judge, and I was just trying to do the best I could,” said Duce, a senior at the University of Arizona who is using his father as his caddie this week. “A lot of the time I was going long or ending up a little short and having to scramble. I was doing a really good job of it holding on until I got to 18.”
On his closing hole, at 1-over for the day and 5-under for the tournament, Duce misjudged the wind, thinking it would carry his approach into the par-5. He hit the shot a little thin, the ball landing and spinning into the water. “When you mis-hit it, it doesn’t catch the wind. I was telling [the ball] to go.”
Kang, Cannon and Duce will make up the final threesome of the day, teeing off at 12:30 p.m.