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Saturday, October 17, 2015

The First Cut is the Deepest

That's an old song written by Cat Stevens and recorded by a number of singers -- I usually think of the Rod Stewart version -- but it certainly describes the first PGA Tour event of the new season. The cut at the Open fell at -2 which I find amazing, especially given the problems players seem to have had reading putts on Silverado's greens.

Hole #1, Silverado Course

While the big names (Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose) are in contention just like we would expect, the leaderboard is filled with the mixture of other players we're used to seeing in these early events:
  • Past winners like Jhonattan Vegas, playing on a past champions exemption this year, and Russell Henley, who's still trying to hit his stride
  • Up-and-comers like Justin Thomas and journeymen like Graham DeLaet, both seeking their first wins
  • New faces fresh off the Tour like Harold Varner III, who's a North Carolina boy like me!
And of course there's the leader, Brendan Steele, a one-time winner hunting for his second. Brendan shot a 62 in the first round but could only muster a 70 in round two. He currently sits at -11; historically, the lowest winning score has been -18 so we're unlikely to see a lot of really low scores in the next two days. The second round was a tough one for most of the players, as it usually is.

Likewise, over at the LPGA event -- which will have finished its third round by the time you read this -- the ladies aren't finding many low scores either. First round leader Sung Hyun Park, who was holding her own against long-hitting playing partners Lexi Thompson and Gerina Piller, shot a -10 round of 62 on Thursday but fell back with a +2 round on Friday. Lydia Ko slowly picked her way to the top of the leaderboard with rounds of 69-65 (-10 after two rounds), but Park was making a comeback in the third round. There's no cut at this LPGA event, so a low score could get almost anyone into the mix.

By comparison, over in Portugal, Andy Sullivan shot back-to-back 64s to take the lead... but that didn't stop several other players from shooting 64s as well. The cut at the Portugal Masters was almost as low as the, falling at -1. But bad weather is on the way to the European Tour event, bad enough that the Tour plans on a shotgun start to try and get players around before the worst of it hits. Scores probably won't be so good in the third round!

Overall it seems that this week's fields -- whether you're talking PGA Tour, ET or LPGA -- are going pretty low on tough courses at a time of year when you would expect fatigue to be a factor. The real question is whether the chase packs can keep it up and put some pressure on the leaders this weekend.

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