Golf

Kevin Sutherland sets sights on MGRC title after close call in 2015

Kevin Sutherland chips on his approach to hole No. 4 during second round of the 2015 Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak in Saucier.
Kevin Sutherland chips on his approach to hole No. 4 during second round of the 2015 Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak in Saucier. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

Kevin Sutherland is due a win on the PGA Tour Champions.

With three consecutive top 10 finishes, the Sacramento, California, native rolls into the start of this weekend’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic with as good a shot as anyone.

The gates will open at 9 a.m. on Friday at Fallen Oak with players teeing off an hour later.

Sutherland may not have the biggest gallery following him when he tees off at 10:50 a.m. Friday, but he knows how to play the course.

Following a round of 67, he was in first place headed into Sunday during the 2015 event, holding a two-stroke lead on 2011 MGRC champion Tom Lehman.

Sutherland closed with a 72 on Sunday and watched David Frost clip Lehman by one stroke for the tournament title. Sutherland finished in the middle of the field at 4-over. But if his recent trend holds up, he should easily best that number this weekend.

“I’ve been playing good,” he said. “I played good here a couple of years ago. I like the course, so it’s all good.”

Sutherland managed to get in 10 holes Thursday during the C Spire Pro-Am before rough weather moved through the area.

He gave Fallen Oak a thumbs up.

“It’s fantastic. The course is in great shape,” he said. “It’s maybe a little softer than you like. When you get rain, there’s nothing you can do about it. The course is in amazing shape.

“The greens are fabulous. They don’t look real they’re so good. The course can’t be any better.”

Rocco Mediate echoed Sutherland’s praise of the course Thursday.

“It’s a good golf course,” he said. “The condition of the greens is the best we’ll probably play this year.”

Sutherland, 52, has a good idea of what it’s going to take to be in the running Sunday.

“I think it’s trying to get the ball underneath the hole,” he said. “The greens have some speed to them, a little bit of a slope. I think to be able to make a bunch of birdies you need to have a lot of good looks from underneath the hole. Obviously, driving the ball as well. But this isn’t a real demanding driving course as much it as it is a good irons course.”

For Mediate, it’s all about being aggressive.

“You’ve got to strike, hit good shots,” the six-time PGA Tour winner said. “You can’t fake it around this place. It’s a really good golf course. It’s a good driving course, but it’s a wonderful second-shot course. The greens are not easy.”

There have been four winners through four events this year on the Champions Tour — Bernhard Langer, Scott McCarron, Fred Couples and Lehman, who won the Tucson Conquistadores Classic on March 19.

Couples is the only player in the Champions Tour’s top 35 earners who won’t be competing this weekend. He leads the Champions Tour with $540,867 earned so far.

The MGRC is a $1.6 million event with $240,000 going to the winner.

Sutherland sits 10th overall in the rankings with $164,200 in the bank. A good weekend could help him pad that number.

“I’m doing everything fairly well,” he said. “I’ve been hitting irons really well all year. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve been playing well. If I make a few putts, I’ll probably have a good week.”

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

What: Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic

When: Friday-Sunday (gates open at 9 a.m. Friday)

Where: Fallen Oak, Saucier

Tickets: Visit 2017MGRC.com

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