OXFORD — The lead and experience are two great things to have entering the final day of the Sunny King Charity Classic, and Freeman Fite and Gary Wigington have both.
They shot 12 under at Cider Ridge on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into today’s conclusion of the 36th annual tournament. Fite and Wigington have a 30-under 114 through two days. Ryan Howard and Lance Evans are in second at 116, and Garrett Burgess and Cypress Hathorn and Jeremy McGatha and Brennan Clay are tied for third at 117. Ty Cole and Matt Rogers; Jaylon Ellison and P.J. Shields; and Seth Bryan and Chris Weaver are tied for fifth at 119.
“We played decent, but we didn’t play good. We got the most out of it that we could,” Wigington said after the 60-stroke round Saturday. “We made some putts, but neither one of us played well, or not as good as we could have. But, we made the best of it. It was a solid round.”
Entering the final round of the championship flight at the Anniston Country Club, both golfers have different sets of experience.
Wigington has won the Sunny King Charity Classic five times, with the most recent coming in 2012. Fite, who joined Wigington this year, has played at ACC for about 20 years and is a former winner of the country club’s annual invitational.
Fite’s success at ACC was one reason Wigington looked to him to create a team after Wigington’s long-time partner Randy Reaves stepped away from golf to follow his son’s baseball pursuits.
“I didn’t think a whole lot about it,” Wigington said, “but when I played in the country club invitational and he won it, it made me think that I had already talked to another guy about playing and he was late about letting me know that he couldn’t, so I thought at the country club that when I saw (Fite) win it, he’d be a good partner for me.”
Wigington showed a lot of confidence having a two-shot lead heading into the final round at Fite’s home course.
“He knows the course as well as anybody and it feels good to have the lead,” Wigington said. “We feel that if we both play well then we have a good shot to hold on and possibly winning. We’ll see.”
Fite noted there are other teams and players that are also out of the country club, adding he and Wigington need to get off to a fast start today.
“The greens will have some speed, which they didn’t (Saturday),” Fite said. “I tend to play better on faster greens, so hopefully we keep playing well and I’ll play well. If we do that, we’ve got a good shot.”
Two other players who have experience playing at ACC on the final day of the tournament are Burgess and Hathorn, the defending champions who got off to a slow start Saturday.
The start was slow enough to the point that Burgess said he thought “it was kind of lost after six holes.”
“We were 2 under after 6 (holes). We never really put ourselves in positions to make birdies between 2 and 4,” he said. “We shot 11 under on the next 12. (Hathorn) made a putt on 7, a long putt on 8 for birdie and then a long putt for eagle on 9.
“I think 8 was the turning point, it was 20-footer on 8. It was the boost after we hadn’t had any putts go in.”
Burgess said the team was looking to shoot 14 under Saturday, adding they should be “ecstatic” to have shot 13 under considering the slow start. Because of the strong finish at Cider Ridge, Burgess/Hathorn are right where they want to be heading into today.
“It’d be nice to be in the lead the whole time and not have to worry about being behind, but I think the more fun thing to do is make a putt on the last hole to win it. That’d be very enjoyable,” Hathorn said. “We need to eliminate any big number and put both of us in a position on any hole to make a putt for birdie. The biggest key in a tournament of this format is to have two putts at every hole. If we have an opportunity to do that, I like our chances. If the putter gets hot, we know the greens up there. Not all courses is there an advantage to be a member, but at Anniston there is.”
Hathorn and Burgess won the tournament last year at 38 under, which they are on pace to top this year. Entering the final round in 2013, the duo led by three strokes and won the tournament by five strokes, despite three late bogeys.
“If you’re within two or three shots back, it’s going to just be a shootout,” Burgess said. “The scores might be better this year, but it really just depends on what (Wigington) and Freeman do.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.