By Billy Watkins
History is in Sahith Theegala’s corner.
The leader after 54 holes has gone on to win the past four Sanderson Farms Championships. And six of the past seven winners earned their first PGA Tour victory here at the Country Club of Jackson.
Theegala, a 23-year-old tour rookie, leads by one shot entering Sunday’s final round.
Four players are just one behind: Cameron Tringale, Denny McCarthy, Sam Burns and Cameron Young.
Twenty-one players are within five shots of the lead.
“It just goes to show you how many talented players there are out here,” said Sam Burns, one of those just one shot back. “As bunched up as it is, there is probably 20 something, maybe more, players who could win.”
Even though Theegala is new to the tour, he knows about winning. He was the Collegiate Player of the Year at Pepperdine in 2020. He’s won tournaments on American soil and in Australia. The moment shouldn’t cramp his free-wheeling style.
He even managed to chuckle about a couple of wayward drives Saturday. He called them “wild … way right.”
“I was happy to escape with a couple of pars,” he said. “I just felt like it was a grind on those last five or six holes.”
He speaks of Sunday’s challenge in a calm, experienced manner.
“I haven’t really thought too much about whether I was behind or ahead,” he said. “I haven’t dwelled on that a whole lot. Obviously I’m in a good position for (Sunday) so I’m excited.
“ A little nerves are in there for sure. But people have said before, pressure is a privilege and I’m trying to use those nerves to my advantage. I’m just having a good time out there. It’s a game and I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Interesting storylines are everywhere among those close behind.
Tringale has been on the PGA Tour since 2010,. This is his 311th event. He’s finished second three times and in the top 10 26 times. He is still seeking his first win.
Burns, a 25-year-old native of Shreveport who played at LSU, earned his first victory in May at the Valspar Championship at Palm Harbor, Fla. He nearly got his second win in August at the St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, losing in a playoff against Hideki Matsuyama and eventual winner Abraham Ancer.
Burns joined the tour in 2017.
“You have to get some breaks to win out here,” Burns said. “Somebody might shoot a 61 or 62 (Sunday) and win. Hopefully, it’s me.”
The Mississippi players had their roughest day of the tournament Saturday.
Hayden Buckley, 25, who grew up in Belden and attended Tupelo High School, fared the best. He managed a 70 and stands four strokes back. He entered Saturday’s round just one shot off the lead.
Fulton’s Chad Ramey, who played at Mississippi State, shot an even par 72 and is 13 behind.
Andy Ogletree, the Newton County native, struggled to a 77 and trails by 14.
Second-round leader Will Zalatoris shows how quickly things can change on the birdie-friendly Country Club of Jackson course: After firing a 61 on Friday with 11 birdies, Zalatoris shot even par Saturday. Two birdies, two bogeys.