Scorching Old White
There are young guns trying to slug their way into golf's elite, and there are others fighting just to keep full tour privileges for next year.
Or acquire them, in the case of Erik Compton.
Compton, the man who has undergone two heart transplants and arrived on a sponsor's exemption (see story, Page 3B), shot a 7-under-par 63 to take the lead in a first round that just did get in. Matt Every, a graduate of the 2009 Nationwide Tour, matched that in the late afternoon.
Every and everyone else with an afternoon tee time had to endure a delay of 1 hour, 33 minutes, caused by rumbling thunder. All 155 players did finish, though.
The 63s led the expected assault on par at the Old White Course's 7,031-yard layout. Three players fired 64s - George McNeill, Pat Perez and Jeff Overton.
It took a 65 to reach the top 10, with five hitting that on the number - Brendon de Jonge, Charles Howell III, Aron Price, Matt Bettencourt and John Rollins.
As expected, it took under par to land in the top 70, the cut line after 36 holes. Eighty-one players landed at 1-under or better.
"Yeah, anytime the greens get soft they roll pretty well, so they're very true," Overton said. "Anytime the greens get like that and you get on with a driver, you're getting a lot of wedges in here because it's so firm and fast on the fairways.
"It's just you're getting some good scoring opportunities. It's unfortunate that they have to water the greens so much, but otherwise they'd kill the greens if they didn't."
Every and Compton, ages 26 and 30, respectively, are the epitome of aspiring (or struggling) pros. Every won the Nationwide Tour Championship last year to assure his ascension to the big tour, and enters this week 134th on the money list and 126th in the FedExCup points standings.
The former University of Florida star showed his plans to improve that in short order. Starting on No. 10, he firebombed the back nine for a 6-under 30, scoring an eagle on the par-5 12th and birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, hit 14 greens in regulation and needed just 26 putts.
Every thought those were too many. He thought a 62 slipped away.
"The greens on the last nine I played were getting pretty rough, spiked up, and it was tough to make any putts," he said. "I made a lot of my putts early."
Compton was similarly effective, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation. He used just 26 putts to recover from a 2-over start after three holes.
Overton nearly joined that tandem, but he bogeyed the 18th. The 162-yard, stadium-style hole yielded 28 crowd-pleasing birdies, but Overton overshot the green and had to assume an awkward stance in chipping it back. He missed a 10-footer for par.
He is 12th in the points standings and has earned $2.4 million so far this year, 10th on the tour, and is 10th in the Ryder Cup points - two spots from automatically making the U.S. team. He has finished second twice this year, but is still seeking his first tour win.
As most golfers do, he lamented the shots that got away. On the other hand, "It's probably the best ball-striking round until the 18th hole I've probably ever had."
Perez's place on the tour is secure because of a 2009 victory, and he is 73rd in the point standings, but is looking to improve on a high finish of 10th. McNeill won in 2007, but is barely inside the top 125 this year.
"Yeah, this could give me a lot of confidence for the next three months coming up," Perez said. "Plus I need a good week to get into the PGA [Championship, in two weeks]."
Like Every, McNeil scored birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th. That could be the recipe to staying atop the crowded leader board.
"Yeah, well, we got to 16, I had that tee shot downwind and then it switched," Every said. "So it was good to get that shot out of the way downwind. And then on 17 I had a good birdie.
"On 18, I hit it right over the pin and made a nice putt. Yeah, it was nice to pick those right there, but you take 'em wherever you can get 'em out here."
Of those who scored 65, de Jonge is having the best season. He is 34th in the points standings, Howell is 49th and Rollins is 75th. But Bettencourt (102nd) needs some good finishes to stay in the top 125, and Price (153rd, 147th money list) needs a late-season rally to keep his card.
Howell and Rollins have won tour events, with Rollins winning in 2009. The other three are still chasing their first title.
The second round begins at 7 a.m. today, and then the field will be cut to the top 70, including ties. Expect another barrage of birdies.
"It's not like, OK, I'm 6 [under] now," Perez said. "Tomorrow, I need to come out and shoot another 6 if I can."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.