Before he teed off on Sunday for the second round of the 72nd Firecracker Open, Michael Rome wanted to peek at the leaderboard just to see how things stood. What he saw wasn’t welcoming.
Tournament leader Alex Ellis, who torched Lions Municipal Golf Course with a 9-under 62 in Saturday’s opening round to give him a three-shot lead, had already made the turn at 4 under in his second round. Ellis was now 13 under for the tournament and seven shots clear of Rome.
But Rome didn’t flinch for a second. It was game on.
A little over four hours later, the once unlikely became a reality — Rome held a two-shot advantage at 14 under heading into Monday’s final round of the Firecracker Open.
“I’d figured (Ellis) was gonna take it pretty deep today,” Rome said of seeing Ellis’ front-nine total. “I didn’t try to think about it too much. Just tried to stick to my game plan and see what happens.”
Rome, a sophomore at UTSA, got off to a fast start with a birdie at the par-4 10th — his first hole of the day. From there it was a birdie barrage. He converted nine total for the round, with only one dropped shot at the par-5 second hole. He closed the round with three straight birdies, including a momentous chip-in from in front of the green at the par-4 9th.
“Yes!” Rome said with exuberance as he delivered a big fist pump to go along with it.
“That was huge,” Rome said after the round. “Just keep the momentum going into tomorrow and maybe a little extra cushion.”
Rome will have a two-shot lead over Ellis, who sits in second after finishing with a 3-under 68 on Sunday, when they step foot on the first tee for Monday’s final round.
“It’s nice. It’s been a while since I’ve been at the top of the leaderboard after a couple days,” Rome said. “I can’t think too much about it. I just got to stick to my gameplan and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
After making the turn at 4-under on Sunday, Ellis started to fall apart. He played the first four holes of his back nine in 3 over, the first sign of any real slowing down he’s shown in this tournament. Ellis rebounded with birdies at his 14th and 17th holes of the day to get back to 12 under for the tournament and card a 3-under total for the day.
“You’re gonna go through those stretches throughout the course of a tournament,” said Ellis, an assistant coach at the College of Charleston. “I just took some deep breaths and made a birdie to kind of change the momentum and hung on from there.”
Rome and Ellis will be in the final group together on Monday afternoon, along with TCU junior Trevor Brown, who sits in third at 8 under. All three played high school golf at Westlake.
Ellis will have a leg up on his playing partners when they tee off Monday at 12:24 p.m. He’s won the Firecracker Open before (2011) and knows what it takes to close the deal here at “Muny.”
Plenty of capable players still loom on the leaderboard heading into Monday, including Brown, Reid Davenport, Jake Ezell and former Firecracker champion Brian Noonan.
But for now, this tournament appears to be a two-horse race, and if the past two days have provided any indication, we could be in for a real shootout come Monday afternoon.
“I’ve played this course so many times to where it’s just I play it the same every time,” Ellis said. “It’s just Lions. No different mindset. (Monday) I might be a little more conservative depending on the situation, but same old Muny.”
For the full leaderboard after round two of the Firecracker Open, click here: leaderboard.htm
For Monday’s final round tee times, click here: pairings.htm