Hoping for Final-Round Magic

3 tied for top spot as crowded leaderboard leaves locals Jeremy Paul and Kyle Westmoreland still in hunt for the title at The Ascendant at TPC Colorado; Pierceson Coody ties KFT record

******For scores from The Ascendant presented by Blue, CLICK HERE******

By Gary Baines – 7/2/2022

The leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round of The Ascendant presented by Blue at TPC Colorado seems to have a little bit of everything:

— A tight competition, with three co-leaders — Ryan McCormick of Jacksonville, Fla., Dawson Armstrong of Brentwood, Tenn., and Zecheng “Marty” Dou of China — and three players a stroke behind.

— For the fans who enjoy following golfers with major Colorado ties, at least two players are still in the mix for the title: former University of Colorado golfer Jeremy Paul (three strokes back) and former Air Force Academy player and later Colorado Springs and Broomfield resident Kyle Westmoreland (four behind).

Jeremy Paul signs an autograph after his round on Saturday.

— Some of the top players from the Korn Ferry Tour are also right in the mix. Carl Yuan of Jacksonville, tops on the KFT points list this year after one victory and two runner-ups, is a stroke out of the lead, as is No. 3 Brandon Matthews of Dupont, Pa., another winner this year. Both are already PGA Tour-bound for next season by virtue of being assured of finishing in the top 25 on the regular-season points list. And Pierceson Coody, who led Texas to an NCAA title a month ago and won a Korn Ferry event last week in his third start, has an outside chance at five out of the lead.

All told, 25 players are within five strokes of the top spot — or in the top spot.

Kyle Westmoreland tees off on the picturesque 16th hole on Saturday.

After the winning score the past three years at TPC Colorado was either 15 or 16 under par, something in that area is a good bet as Armstrong, McCormick and Dou lead at 12 under. Armstrong and McCormick were also tied for the lead after round 2.

“Hopefully tomorrow will be a round where it all comes together,” said Paul, who is looking for his first KFT victory. “Anything is possible.”

Said Westmoreland: “I’m going to try to enjoy it tomorrow and see if we can do some damage.”

Co-leader Dawson Armstrong.

Though Dou is the only one of the co-leaders who has won before on the Korn Ferry Tour — he captured one title each in 2017 and ’19 — the others seem bound and determined to kick that barrier down.

“You plan on being here,” Armstrong said. “You don’t play on this tour and you don’t play golf just to be comfortable with finishing fifth or seventh. This is a position that I feel like I’m ready for, I feel like I’ve always been ready for. I tend to find myself really focusing in a lot more when I get up near the top.”

As for Dou, he appears ready to add to his win total. But even with a solo third or a four-way second place or better, he’ll secure his PGA Tour card for next season.

Co-leader Marty Dou.

“This is one of the last weeks (of the season), so everybody should be nervous because it’s a couple points away, a couple top-10 finishes away from getting their (PGA) Tour card,” said Dou, who finished seventh in the 2019 Ascendant at TPC Colorado. “I’m definitely a little nervous, but I just want to play like I did the last few days and I should be fine. My golf game is there. I could win any time the way I’m playing today.” 

Dou shot a bogey-free 4-under-par 68 on Saturday, when he parred his last 10 holes. Armstrong played his final eight holes in 2 under par en route to a 70, making a 10-foot birdie putt on 16 and a 12-foot par on 17 before missing a 7-foot birdie attempt on 18 that would have given him the solo lead. McCormick needed to get up and down for par from well beyond the green on 18 and likewise posted a 70.

“This is why you play out here — to try to win,” McCormick said. “It’s a great position to be in, and I’m excited about it. I feel good out there. Tomorrow will be fun.”

Co-leader Ryan McCormick.

Meanwhile, Yuan on Saturday posted the week’s low round, an 8-under-par 64 that included an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey. And Armstrong, for one, expects more of the some on Sunday, generally speaking.

“You’re going to see guys shoot 65, 64, 66, and find their way from T20 to top 5,” he said.

A first prize of $135,000 — out of a total purse of $750,000 — will be up for grabs on Sunday.

Paul, Westmoreland Seek Another High Finish: As for the “local” players in contention, both Paul and Westmoreland are both looking for their third top-10 of the KFT season. Paul owns a fifth and a seventh place this year, while Westmoreland has two sevenths, including one two weeks ago in Wichita.

Both hope to make inroads toward earning their PGA Tour cards for next season, with a victory on Sunday being the ultimate immediate goal.

“I usually don’t even look at the leaderboard,” Paul said of his approach to the final round. “(If you do) you think about it too much. I can’t control what other people are doing. If I see that I’m in third place or whatever, if anything it makes you more nervous. It doesn’t really help looking at the leaderboard. I try to play good golf and try to keep the emotions out of it. Try to treat it as if you were playing by yourself and you see where that leaves you at the end.”

Jeremy Paul.

On Saturday, Paul rebounded from a less-than-stellar start (1 over through four holes) to post three straight birdies in the middle of the front nine en route to a 69. He shares seventh place at 9-under 207.

“I think last year 16 (under) won the tournament so I think anything around there would have a chance,” Paul said. “If you get off to a good start, 6 or 7 (under for a round) is out there. It’s crucial to get off to a good start. Once you do that, you can post some low scores out here. That’s what I’ll try to do tomorrow. If someone shoots 20 under for the week, that’s just how it is. I’ll be satisfied if I get it to 15. That would be awesome.”

Westmoreland had to battle back after a relatively slow start to the week. He was 2 over par for his first 20 holes, then 10 under for his last 34 holes. After scores of 68-67 the last two days, he stands at 8 under and in a tie for 12th place.

Kyle Westmoreland.

For the season, Westmoreland sits 55th on the season-long points list, which still leaves open the chance he can earn a PGA Tour card by season’s end.

“It’s been a great time for me,” the 30-year-old said. “This is my first real season of golf after the military (following graduation from the Air Force Academy). It’s been a great time to kind of learn and sharpen that edge a little and continue to compete. Right now, I’m in that safe zone (regarding at least keeping his exempt status on the Korn Ferry Tour next season). And a win would get me close to locking up my (PGA) Tour card, so that’s what we’re trying to do. Worst case scenario, we’ll have a job next year on a golf course chasing balls around. So I might as well try to go out and try to win.”

Westmoreland now lives in the Charleston, S.C., area, but from 2010-14 and 2017-19 he was a resident of Colorado, either in Colorado Springs or Broomfield. He’s very much enjoying being back in his old haunts this week.

“It’s fun being out in Colorado,” he said. “I went to school out here and lived out here. I love it here. We’ve got a bunch of friends, families, coaches. Having all them out is an awesome time. Tomorrow, we’ll try to enjoy it and execute our game plan.” 

Sam Saunders of Fort Collins.

Here are the scores of all the players with major Colorado connections competing at TPC Colorado:

7. Former CU golfer Jeremy Paul 67-71-69–207

12. Former Air Force Academy golfer Kyle Westmoreland 73-68-67–208

44. Sam Saunders of Fort Collins 73-69-70—212

44. Former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney 69-74-69—212

44. Highlands Ranch native Derek Oland 70-73-69–212

54. Zahkai Brown of Golden 72-69-72–213

63. Jake Staiano of Englewood 74-69-72–215

Missed 36-Hole Cut

Geoff Keffer of Lakewood 70-76–146

Dan Erickson of Loveland 75-72–147

Former Colorado School of Mines golfer George Markham 74-75–149

Boulder County native George Cunningham 76-75–151

Tyler McCumber of Lyons 78-WD

Pierceson Coody.

Red-Hot Start by Coody Ties KFT Record: The list of players on the Korn Ferry Tour with more potential long-term upside than Pierceson Coody may be very short. The 22-year-old has demonstrated why in recent weeks, including on Saturday at The Ascendant at TPC Colorado.

Coody, grandson of 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody, tied the Korn Ferry Tour record by making seven consecutive birdies to begin a round. And though he tailed off after that and shot only a 5-under 67, he still may have an outside chance of winning the tournament on Sunday as he’s five out of the lead through 54 holes.

“It sounds stupid but it was really simple,” Coody said of his birdie streak on Saturday. “I just kept hitting it really close. I made one 20-footer and a 12-footer on 7 — those were the only tough putts I had to hole (during that stretch). I was just really hitting it well off the tee and gave myself looks. 

“I know I’ve been 8 under through seven (holes) before but I think I might have sprinkled in some eagles and pars, so seven in a row is probably my longest streak of birdies. I’ve had seven in a row but I don’t think I’ve had more than seven.”

In his last three Korn Ferry Tour starts, Coody has placed fourth, first and to be determined at TPC Colorado. In his 11 rounds in those events, his average score is 66.7. In Berthoud so far, he’s 7 under par and in 17th place going into the final round.

“It’s been wild,” Coody said of all that’s transpired with him in the last month-plus, including Texas’ NCAA title and his KFT victory in Maine. “This is my fourth week (as a pro). It’s been five weeks since the NCAA. It’s been incredible. I’ve been very fortunate to be in this situation. I just believe the good golf I was playing in college has translated — and I believed it would. I’m glad to see I’m starting to build my way to the PGA Tour hopefully.”

In his quest to finish the KFT regular season in the top 25 — and thus earn his PGA Tour card for next season — Coody currently stands 31st.

“I have tomorrow’s round to go do something great — get more points or whatnot, then I have four (more) events,” he said. “Most of the guys out here, if you had told them they’re in the top 30 or 35 on the money list with four events left to go chasing a PGA Tour card, they would have signed their name to that deal. I’m happy where I’m at, and I believe I can get it done with some good golf.”

Notable: Among those in attendance on Saturday at TPC Colorado were Leigha Devine of Windsor (recent winner of the CGA Women’s Match Play and qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Hunter Swanson of Denver (who won The First Tee National Championship on Friday in Indiana). … Tee times for Sunday’s final round will run 6:48-9 a.m. off both the first and 10th tees: CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)