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Amateur McCoy contending in hometown event

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Lee McCoy figures he has played Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course about a thousand times, but never as well as he did Saturday in the Valspar Championship.

The University of Georgia senior, who grew up about a par 5 from the first tee, was 7 under for the day here and a shot off the lead before a double bogey on the 16th hole. He settled for a 5-under 66, matching the low round of the week, and now will be within striking distance heading into the final round of his fourth career PGA Tour start.

“This is as good as it gets,” he said afterward. “That’s about as good as I can play minus 16.”

McCoy, 22, lived in one of the subdivisions here in Innisbrook until he was 17, when he moved to Georgia for his senior year of high school. He said he has been coming to this tournament for “eons,” riding his bike behind the 14th green, chaining it to the fence and sneaking inside the property. Not old enough to drive a cart, he was dropped off at the course in the late afternoon and on weekend mornings to find groups that didn’t have a fourth.

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“It was incredible to grow up here and just to get some experience on this golf course early in my life,” he said. “It’s a tough test and kind of taught me to grind early.”

McCoy moved to his family’s home in Clarkesville, Ga., to establish residency, which saved the school money on his golf scholarship. McCoy won the state championship that year.

At Georgia, he earned All-American honors and last year tied a school record with four wins, including three in a row during the spring. He also qualified for the U.S. Open, made the cut at the John Deere Classic and played on the Walker Cup team.

McCoy actually asked for a sponsor exemption into his hometown event last year, when he popped into tournament director Tracy West's office unannounced and pleaded his case. There weren't any spots available, but they extended McCoy an invitation last summer.

McCoy is playing Q-School in Canada next month and plans to turn pro after NCAAs in early June. Though he is not eligible to receive any prize money this week – nor is the PGA Tour allowing him to donate his would-be earnings to charity – the Tour experience should prove valuable.

His father, Terry, took a screenshot of the Valspar leaderboard when McCoy moved to 7 under for the day and 4 under for the tournament, just one back of the leaders. Then McCoy pushed his tee shot into the water on 16 – “One of the toughest holes I’ve ever played” – and made double, but he rebounded with back-to-back stress-free pars to shoot 66. 

“He’s competitive,” Terry McCoy said. “He thinks he can win every time he tees it up.”

Said Lee McCoy: “I’ve known now for a couple of years that I had the game to compete out here, but getting out here and doing it and putting it on a scorecard is another animal.”