FRONT ROYAL — If you can't remember all the holes you birdie over the course of the round, it's fair to say you've had a pretty good day.
James Wood junior Carson Baker recorded seven birdies on Tuesday at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club en route to posting a 2-over-par 74, the best score of his high school career and the lowest score among area golfers this season. Baker's two-day total of 158 was the tournament's seventh-best score overall and led the Colonels to third place out of eight teams at the 32nd annual Bryan Gunter Memorial Golf Tournament.
Baker led an effort that James Wood coach David Oates couldn't have been happier with. After posting a solid four-player score of 341 in the first round of the Gunter on Monday at the Winchester Country Club — where team scores are almost always higher than at SVGC — the Colonels posted their lowest four-player score in years with a 313 on the Red and Blue nines of SVGC.
"Today was unbelievable," said Oates on a day in which rain fell intermittently over a stretch of more than two hours during competition, occasionally falling hard. "I'm kind of numb right now. We were hoping to shoot in the 320s today — 313 is probably as good as we've been in at least maybe four, five, six years. All the kids just played to their ability."
James Wood (654) maintained its third-place standing as a result, finishing only behind Loudoun Valley (295-293—628) and Loudoun County (317-311—628). The Vikings won the tournament for the first time since 2016 and the seventh time since 2007. Led by Owen Cook (71-71—142 to win by three shots), Loudoun Valley had five of the six best two-round scores in the tournament.
Handley (349-333—682) placed fourth, Millbrook (382-358—740) took sixth and Sherando (397-363—760) was eighth.
Typically a 12-team tournament, the Gunter was scaled back this year in part because many schools are starting classes earlier this year and couldn't fit the Gunter into their schedule. James Wood coordinator of student activities Craig Woshner announced in the post-tournament ceremony that moving the Gunter to a different date next year could be a possibility.
James Wood senior Jackson Lynch (78, four strokes better than Monday's 82, 160 total to tie for ninth overall), sophomore Luke Davis (80, 93 on Monday, 173 total) and senior Ethan Russell (81, 87 on Monday, 168 total) factored along with Baker into Tuesday's score.
Baker felt like he played well on Monday, but two rough holes elevated his score at WCC. Baker needed eight strokes to navigate the par-5 13th, and he had a six on the par-3 eighth hole.
"I was hitting the ball pretty well," Baker said.
In Tuesday's shotgun start, Baker started off strong with a birdie on his first hole, the 449-yard, par-5 Red No. 9. The other birdies he could remember came on No. 9 Blue (par-5) and Nos. 1 (par-4), 3 (par-3), 4 (par-5) and 8 (par-4) Red.
Baker managed his career-best score despite recording double bogeys on Blue Nos. 4 and 7, both par-4s.
"Wedges," said Baker when asked about his strengths on Tuesday. "I was hitting them pretty close. [Most of my birdies] were within 10 feet."
Baker did make one long birdie putt — he finished his day with a 40-footer on Red No. 8.
Much like his teammate Lynch — who has bested his season stroke average from last year in all four of his rounds this year — Baker said the mental side of golf is where he's improved the most this year.
"I'm not getting as angry [this year]," Baker said. "That's what was holding me back the last two years."
Oates said Baker was fun to watch on Tuesday.
"He was absolutely killing it off the tee," Oates said. "He was hitting the ball so far today, and that set up opportunities. And he stayed patient. He kept within himself and focused and put it all together. It was really great."
Oates was also pleased with Davis' play. Last year, Oates said Davis was typically shooting mid-90s to 100.
"You can really tell he's worked on his game," Oates said.
Lynch progressed throughout the tournament. On Monday at WCC, he shot 6-over on the front nine and a 4-over on the back. On Tuesday, he shot his best round of the young season despite starting off with consecutive bogeys after starting off on Blue No. 1.
"I definitely left a lot of stokes out there," Lynch said. "I missed the greens on the first few holes, missed some birdie putts, had a couple three-putts. I had a lot of good drives today though."
Lynch did birdie his last hole to beat his season-best by one stroke. On Red No. 9, Lynch hit his drive under a tree but was able to keep his second shot underneath a branch and land it on the fringe of the green. He then putted twice to finish off the hole.
Handley recorded its best four-player score in the three-year tenure of coach Troy Mezzatesta on Tuesday. The Judges' four counting scores came from Cody Williams (83, 85 Monday, 168 total), Jack Thome (81, 89 Monday, 170 total), Braxton Duvall (85, 87 Monday, 172 total) and Brennan Smith (84, 88 Monday, 172 total).
"Today was good because when it rains like today, kids can use that as an excuse," Mezzatesta said. "Today they were all smiling through the rain and keeping positive. I think we're making some progress on the mental side of the game, though we have a ways to go."
Millbrook posted its best four-player score of the season on Tuesday, six strokes better than last week's Licklider. On Tuesday, the Pioneers were led by Tyler McGuire's 84 (he shot 87 Monday for a total of 171) and Chloe Owings (89).
"That day at the Licklider, we had a lot of kids play to the top of their games, and we thought we had a little bit more left in the tank," Mark Manspile said. "Still, we were shooting for the 350s at the end of the year, so today was great. We tend to play better here. We worked on short-game stuff in practice. I keep telling them that's going to be the quickest way to lower your score, by tightening up your game around the greens.
"The two younger players, [sophomores] William [Croyle] and Chloe, they're hitting the ball really well, it's just they were penalizing themselves with the short game. They had a lot of three-putts, had some four-putts yesterday, and they improved that significantly today."
Sherando senior Parker Gregg continued his strong start to the season with an 80, giving him a total of 162 over three days for the area's third-best local score.
Gregg enjoyed playing at WCC on Monday after not having played the course in two years (the second round of last year's Gunter scheduled for WCC was wiped out because of rain). Gregg said the aerated greens made putting difficult, but he still excelled in that area to make up for rough approach shots.
Gregg said putting is the area of his game that has improved the most from last year.
"I definitely had a lot of three-putts," said Gregg, who birdied No. 6 Red with a 30-foot putt from just off the green. "Now I'm having one-putt, two-putts more often than three-putts, so that's the best part of my game now."
Gregg said he felt drove the ball well on Tuesday, but he once again had issues with his approach shots. Still, he likes how he's playing overall.
"I feel like I'm more consistent this year," said Gregg, who has yet to shoot higher than 84. "Last year I was usually in the mid-80s, high 80s. Now I'm in the low 80s, and I've got to work on getting in the 70s more consistently."
The Warriors were also led on Tuesday by Ian Adams, who shot an 85 after posting a 90 on Monday to give him a 175 total.