The last time Owen Taylor shot a 67 in competition at Haggin Oaks, all he needed the next day was a 76 or better to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
He shot a 77. That was in June.
Taylor was devastated but not defeated. He dedicated himself earlier in the summer to working harder, playing smarter and getting more out of his natural golf ability. He wasn't going to let that disappointment deter him.
"I learned more that day than I have all summer," Taylor said. "That's when it was putting one shot at a time to the test, and I didn't do that. I didn't stick to my routine."
Taylor birdied the 18th hole late Sunday afternoon to post a 5-under-par 67 at Haggin's MacKenzie course and earn a share of the 36-hole lead in the California State Fair Men's Championship with Brandon Hagy (68) and Maverick McNealy (67). The trio is at 9-under 135.
Taylor, a Sacramento State junior, was third on the Hornets in scoring average last season. If he's going to take home the State Fair trophy today, he's going to have shoot much lower than 76 to top Hagy, the defending State Fair champion from powerhouse Cal, McNealy, a highly regarded Stanford freshman, and a group of pursuers one shot behind made up of Cal's Joel Stalter (67), Sacramento teenager Cameron Champ (68), Connecticut amateur champion Cody Paladino (70) and San Rafael left-hander Alex Franklin (66).
Taylor, who came to Sac State from San Juan Capistrano, took the first step toward title contention early this summer when he started practicing and playing from dawn to dusk at Cameron Park, which gave him a player-development membership.
The impetus to the change in habits?
"I just got sick of shooting 75s, to be honest," he said. "I have more talent than that."
If Hagy is disappointed in not making the U.S. Walker Cup team he was the first alternate on the 10-man team that includes three Cal players that competes this weekend against a team from Great Britain and Ireland in Southampton, N.Y., he didn't show it.
The Cal senior from Westlake Village has played Nos. 15-18 in 9 under over two rounds.
"I didn't play very well, but I can take some positives in the way I finished," he said.
Hagy went from an anchored putting stroke in January to a standard-length putter, not because of the impending ban on anchored strokes but because "I have a little better feel."
NcNealy, 17, will be the youngster in the final threesome. He said he's fine being called Mav or Maverick "My dad jokes that my mom had a crush on Tom Cruise," who played "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun" but don't call him intimidated.
"This course sets up well for me," said NcNealy, who's from Portola Valley. "I just blast a lot of drivers. It's a second-shot golf course, where you have to manage your misses."
The final threesome will start at 9:24 a.m. The final groups will be followed by leaderboards.
Call The Bee's Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.