Kyle Pritchard and Ben Kern were sizzling on Thursday — and it wasn’t from the heat index that hovered around 100 degrees in Tyler.

Pritchard, the former Rajun’ Cajun, and Kern, the defending champion, were on fire, each carding 9-under 61 on Thursday at The Cascades Golf & Country Club.

Pritchard, a Castroville resident who attended Louisiana-Layfayette, is at 19-under 191, six shots ahead of the field, after three rounds of the $200,000 49th Tanos Exploration II/Patterson-UTI Drilling Texas State Open.

The fourth and final round is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Friday. Tee times continue through 1:12 p.m. when Pritchard, along with Derek Oland of Plano, who is tied for second place with three other golfers, tee off. Admission to the tourney is free.

The course pro at Alsatian Golf Club was bogey free on Thursday, carding nine birdies. Pritchard was the the leader after Round 1 with a 63.

“They set the course up a little easier (Thursday) and my goals were just to make as many birdies as possible,” said Pritchard, who has three young boys — ages 1, 3 and 5 — and does not get to play a lot of golf. “It was the third round so I tried to get something going. They told me right before I teed off that Kern shot 61, so he’s pretty good and I figured I could follow that.”

Playing in his third straight TSO and fourth overall, Pritchard, who was a school teacher for four years before returning to the golf business in 2018, said he was putting for an eagle on all the par 5s.

“You have to putt well and have a good short game,” Pritchard said of The Cascades. “The course sets up for a draw almost every hole. I don’t draw it big, but you have to draw it at least a little bit, so it’s driver, putter and wedge, that’s it. For (Friday), my game plan is going to be fairways and greens. Same thing as today, not take anything for granted, just one hole at a time. There’s some hard holes, there’s some easy holes, so it’s just one hole at a time.”

Pritchard and his family moved to Castroville from Louisiana when he was in high school. He helped lead Medina Valley to two state golf tournaments. The first time he played in the TSO, he had just graduated from ULL in 2009.

“I was just out college and missed the cut with a 75-76,” he said. “I put up my clubs and didn’t touch them again for over a year.”

For the week, Pritchard has as many eagles as bogeys — two.

Last year, only six players finished the tournament in double digits under par. However, entering the final round that’s over doubled to 13.

Oland ended up finishing the day with a total of eight birdies and an eagle for a 62, while Blake Elliott of Bullard also had a solid third round, carding nine total birdies, including the final six holes of his round for a 63. Alex Carpenter of Dallas finished the round having carded nine total birdies for a 64 and Chase Barnes of Cypress finished up with a total of five birdies for a 65. All four players currently sit tied for second at 13-under 197.

Elliott, the 2019 Southland Conference Golfer of the Year at McNeese State, continues to play steady golf. After consecutive rounds of 67, he had a 7-under 63 on Thursday. Elliott played at Liberty Hill High School before going to Paris Junior College and eventually to the Lake Charles, Louisiana school.

Colin Kober of Southlake and a rising senior at Baylor, and fellow Bear teammate and Round Two leader Ryan Grider are currently tied for Low Amateur honors as well as sixth place overall at 12-under-par 198. Grider, who is a rising junior at BU, won the 110th Texas Amateur back in June. After eagles on No. 8 and birdies on No. 9 in the first two rounds, Grider had pars on the holes on Thursday. Kober had a third round of 64, while Grider had a 70.

Defending Kern made a big move up the leaderboard. He jetted from 41st to a tie for 14th. Not only did he move up the Championship leaderboard, but he is also in a strong position to claim Low PGA Professional honors for the third year in a row. Kern, the Georgetown Country Club pro, is leading the division by six strokes. He has rebounded nicely from his opening round of 73.

The purse is record $208,560, one of the largest state open purses in the country. The champion will win $41,000.

TWITTER: @PhilHicksETFS

Sports Editor

I am a native Tylerite and I grew up reading the Tyler Morning Telegraph and The Tyler Courier-Times. My parents took both the morning and afternoon papers. I came to work here 35 years ago at the age of 23, right after college.

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