As the rest of the sporting events in the country come to a halt, Moldovan leads prestigious tournament in South Carolina with nine holes left.

The sports world stands still for most athletes in the country in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It continues to turn for Green High School senior golfer Maxwell Moldovan.


The two-time Ohio state champion is leading the field by three strokes after 45 holes of the 10th annual Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville, South Carolina.


“It’s weird,” Moldovan said of the circumstances. “Just a week ago no one was thinking about coronavirus all that much. You would hear about it on the news but everyone was planning for events as usual.”


The stacked Junior Invitational features players from five continents and 11 countries in a three-day, 54-hole event. It has continued despite the coronavirus outbreak causing the PGA Tour to suspend play, joining nearly every other pro and college sports league.


“It’s been different,” Moldovan said by phone Friday night. “They actually tested us for the coronavirus as soon as we got here. We have had a few schedule changes. This is a tournament that usually has a lot of spectators, but they have barred everyone but immediate family from following us. They have served us all of our dinners outside. They are taking a lot of precautions.”


Those precautions led to some last-minute schedule changes. The tournament was originally scheduled for 18 holes each day — Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But the escalating response to coronavirus forced changes early Friday.


“I was supposed to tee off at 11:40 (Friday) morning and we got called to a mandatory meeting at 10 on the practice green,” Moldovan said. “I thought that was going to be it and they were waving off the tournament. They told us at the meeting that they were planning to play 36 holes (Friday) to finish the tournament. They also changed my tee time from 11:40 to 11:10 this morning.”


Moldovan quickly adjusted his usual routine.


“I usually spend an hour alone warming up before I tee off,” Moldovan said. “I found out I had less than that and I hadn’t eaten breakfast or even had a shower yet.”


The plan to play 36 holes Friday was abandoned in the afternoon, with players completing 27 holes. The final nine holes are scheduled to resume Saturday morning. Moldovan has yet to be slowed by any of the changes and is looking to win the event, considered to be The Masters of junior golf, after finishing second in 2019.


Moldovan shot a sizzling 7-under 63 in the second round Friday to surge atop the leaderboard. That included a 32 on the front nine.


The Ohio State recruit is even par for the first nine holes of the final round and sits at 9-under for the tournament.


“I didn’t think we would be able to get 36 holes in when they made the announcement this morning,” Moldovan said. “Just looking at the timetable, I thought that might be really difficult to get done. I thought they might end up calling it after 36 holes but I’m really glad we are going to get the whole 54 holes in.”


Saturday will be a challenge for Moldovan. He will play the difficult back nine while others in contention will play the easier front nine. The leaders also will not be grouped together Saturday.


“We’re staying in the same groups we started the day in on Friday,” Moldovan said. “I’m not going to have any idea of how close the others are to me. It’s going to be a unique situation. I’m just going to go out and try to hit fairways and stay in regulation.”


As one of the few sporting events happening in the entire country, it is attracting more attention than usual. That is not expected to be a factor for Moldovan on Saturday.


“It’s cool,” Moldovan said. “I’ve noticed a lot more people messaging me and following the tournament as it has gone on. That’s nice because this is one of my favorite tournaments to play in.”


The final round Saturday will cap what has been a wild week for the sports world.


“To see it wipe everything out so quickly has been kind of surprising,” Moldovan said. “Seeing PGA Tour events taken out and not being able to watch those definitely hurts as a fan. Safety is the most important thing right now, though. I think that is the top priority for everybody.”


Reach Cliff at 330-580-8494


or cliff.hickman@cantonrep.com


On Twitter: @chickmanREP