Six-Time Tour Winner Ryan Nelson Eyes First Win of 2015 at Seventh Annual River Hills Classic

Ryan Nelson

By Stewart Moore

Lake Wylie, S.C. – Since the summer of 2011, Ryan Nelson of Charleston, S.C. has notched six victories on Swing Thought Tour Charlotte (formerly the eGolf Tour), including a win at the $300,000 Tour Championship last year, which in turn locked up his first career tour money title with over $112,000 in earnings.

This year, the married father of two has yet to solidify a spot in the winner’s circle, but has been close, posting three top-5 finishes entering this week’s seventh annual River Hills Classic.

On Thursday afternoon, just before area storms halted play for nearly two hours, Nelson recorded a second-straight round of 66 on an arduous River Hills Country Club venue to post a 36-hole total of 12-under 132, good for a one-shot lead entering Friday’s third round of the 72-hole event.

Nelson opened his week at the 1969 Willard Byrd-designed course with a 6-under 66 to sit tied for second, two shots back of overnight leader Josh O’Neal of Greer, S.C.

Starting his round on the front nine at the narrow, tree-lined venue, Nelson played brilliant golf throughout much of his day, posting birdies on Nos. 4 and 6 to turn in 2-under 34 before a stellar eagle on the par-5 10th vaulted him to 4-under par.

“I played real solid up until then outside of a shot or two,” said Nelson. “On 10, I had a decent number down the hill for my second shot and hit a 4-iron from 200 yards to 6 feet and poured it right in.”

On a course that requires precise shot-making and accuracy, Nelson excelled on arguably the three tightest holes, birdieing Nos. 12, 13 and 14 to reach 13-under for the week and 7-under on the day.

“I was indecisive on 12 and wound up blocking my tee shot right, only to get lucky with it bouncing back in bounds,” he said. “From there I played a different layup shot and wedged it to 10 feet for a good birdie.”

Chris GallagherChris Gallagher

Short-iron approaches to 5 feet on both 13 and 14 set up the follow-up birdies, but the 37-year-old stumbled on the par-4 15th, recording his first bogey of the day to drop back to 6-under par.

Pars on 16 through 18 left Nelson with a second-straight 66 and a 12-under-par total at the event’s halfway point.

While sub-standard by his own lofty expectations, Nelson’s 2015 campaign has been remarkably solid, with 10 top-25 finishes in 11 starts – including the aforementioned three top-5 efforts.

“There is a lot of that frustration from the middle of this year. Doing Monday qualifiers and all of that stuff, I’ve wound up making silly mistakes, but with my age and experience I shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “It’s tough to make those easy mistakes and have to re-focus a bit, but I’ve been able to do that this week.”

At River Hills, the former University of Portland golfer has played well, collecting a runner-up finish in the event’s 2014 edition after a 10-under-par total left him two shots shy of winner Ethan Tracy.

The demanding layout puts forth a love-hate relationship for a number of players who fail to keep the ball in play or below the hole.

For Nelson, that necessity of strategy fits like a glove.

“There are a lot of uncomfortable shots out here, but when you see the holes a few times, you get used to it and where to hit it,” he said. “You don’t have to press, and you take more fat sides of greens for more uphill putts. If you’re above the hole all day, you’re going to struggle out there.”

Chris Gallagher of Charlotte, N.C. is in solo-second place at 11-under 133, one shot back of Nelson after posting a 9-under 63 on Thursday afternoon for the week’s low round.

The Philadelphia native birdied five of his first eight holes to turn in 4-under 32 after starting on the back nine, overcoming a bogey on the short 13th to reach 6-under on the week.

Kevin McListerKevin McLister

On his back nine (the club’s front), Gallagher shined, birdieing Nos. 1 and 4 to reach 6-under for the round before an eagle on the par-5 sixth pushed him to 8-under total.

A follow-up birdie on No. 7 took the 33-year-old to 9-under on the day before area lightning forced him into the clubhouse to wait patiently prior to the completion of his final two holes.

Once he returned to the course at 3:20 PM, Gallagher parred Nos. 8 and 9 for a 9-under 63, just two shots shy of the course record of 61 set by current PGA TOUR member Brice Garnett in the event’s 2011 edition.

The longtime tour member was the 54-hole leader at last year’s River Hills Classic, but like Nelson, fell victim to a final-round charge from Tracy that left him a distant nine shots back, in solo-sixth place.

Kevin McLister of Charlotte, N.C., who played alongside Nelson and five-time tour winner T.J. Howe of Osceola, Pa. through the first two rounds, sits alone in third place at 9-under 135 following rounds of 67-68.

The Leesburg, Va. native birdied Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 8 on day two to race out to a 4-under-par start through eight holes, but played his final 10 holes in even par for a second-round 68.

The 26-year-old, who has competed on tour since 2011, has had an up-and-down 2015 season, making just five cuts in 13 starts, but notching career win No. 1 at the Mimosa Hills Open in June.

At Mimosa Hills, McLister rode rounds of 66-66-62-66—260 to a 20-under-par total, good for a two-shot victory over recent Verdict Ridge Open champion Michael Cromie.

The 36-hole cut fell at 1-under 143, with 28 players making it through to the final 36 holes of play.

The third round of the River Hills Classic will begin at 8:00 AM on Friday morning, with players competing in threesomes off of Nos. 1 and 10 tees. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.