GOLF: Wheeler moves to top of the leaderboard

Calm winds and milder temperatures allowed for a pack of players to separate themselves on moving day at the West Texas Amateur at the Odessa Country Club.

Christopher Wheeler of Addison was the best of the group.

Wheeler, one stroke off the pace heading into play, holds the overnight lead after carding a 4-under-par 68 Saturday over the Old Course.

His round included five birdies, including one on the challenging par-3 15th, which measures 211 yards from the back tees, and one bogey.

Wheeler, who played collegiate golf for Tulane from 2002-2005, is currently the 898th ranked amateur in the world, the highest in the field.

His accomplishments include winning the Texas Mid-Amateur Match Play in 2021, an appearance at the U.S. Amateur that same year, and being the only Tulane golfer in program history named to back-to-back all-conference teams.

One of the competitors attempting to chase down Wheeler in Sunday’s final round is Nolan Otto, a UTPB alumni from Big Spring.

Otto fired off matching 3-under-par 69s to open his championship, and would’ve shared the overnight lead if not for a small mistake on his final hole.

“I started off on 10 this morning and made par, then had an early bogey on 11,” he said. “I rallied back though, and made a lot of birdies on the back-nine [the front-nine, his final nine holes].

“Ended with a bogey, missed a little two-and-a-half footer but you know, it happens from time to time.”

Odessa Country Club is UTPB’s home course, giving Otto plenty of prior knowledge to rely on over the course of the week.

“This is our home course. The greens are as fast as I’ve seen them in a while, but they collect balls really well, stop when you hit into them and they’re pretty pure right now,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of fun golfing around here these past two days.”

Otto, who will be paired with Wheeler in the final round, will look to play his own game as he chases down the lead.

“The best way to think about is that you’re the only one golfing out there,” he said. “You’ve gotta take it one shot at a time.

“I like doing three-hole increments, trying to play every three holes one-under, simple stuff like that to keep you up and going. It’ll be fun.”

Jake Leatherwood of Snyder, after posting a 68, also sits just one shot back.

The Midwestern State incoming senior had a roller coaster of a front-nine to open up the third round.

After birdieng the opening par 5, Leatherwood double bogeyed No. 2, then quickly righted the ship with an eagle from the fairway on No. 4.

Leatherwood would finish up his front-nine with two additional birdies to go out in 33.

Casey Carnes, the first round leader, finished 1-under-par 71 on the day to get to five-under-par, two shots back.

Dan Depasquale of Austin is tied with Carnes in fourth.

SMU’s Justin Thompson sits three shots back after a 3-under 69.

Follow Nicholas Pursley on Twitter @nicholaspursley.