It seems only appropriate that the birdies are coming in bunches at the Chiquita Classic. Through two rounds of the inaugural event at TPC River’s Bend, the field of 156 players has accumulated 1,448 birdies, which averages out to 9.28 per person. There have also been 47 eagles, which is more than the totals of 11 of the first 14 tournaments this year.
Nearly three inches of rain on Tuesday softened the Arnold Palmer-designed course to the point that players are fearlessly bombing drivers into suddenly wider fairways and taking aim at every flag. The net result is a scoreboard drenched in red numbers with many players setting career or season bests.
A total of 19 are in double digits after 36 holes in the oppressive summer heat and humidity with South Carolina’s Tommy Gainey leading the assault on par at 14-under 130. A whopping 69 players made the cut, which came at 6-under-par 138. Before settling at minus-6 late Friday afternoon, there was a chance of the cut moving to 7-under 137, which would have tied the mark for the lowest in Nationwide Tour history.
Gainey fired a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke advantage over Justin Smith (66), leading money-winner Chris Kirk (64) and Sweden’s Peter Gustafsson (66), who was in the final group of the day. Joe Affrunti (65), Colt Knost (66), Chris Nallen (66) and Brendan Steele (65) share fifh place at 12-under 132.
Stephen Poole (66) and David Mathis (64) are tied for ninth, three back. The group at 10 under is headed by cross-handed Josh Broadaway, who has made 132 career starts in his six years on Tour and never shot a 9-under 63 -- until Friday.
“It’s crazy. There are a lot of birdie holes out here,” said Justin Smith, who was a cumulative 18 over par in 10 starts prior to this week. “It’s soft and maybe we’re sacrificing some distance off the tee but you can go right at these greens.”
Back-to-back birdies have been a common theme thus far, with many stringing together three in a row and 11 players running off at least four straight.
Gainey had the pedal to the metal early in the afternoon, chalking up seven birdies through 11 holes before a traffic jam of slow play derailed his concentration. The winner of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open last month wound up playing the final seven holes in 1 over par.
“I just need to forget the last seven and focus on the way I hit it the first 11 because it was excellent,” said Gainey, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and all 18 greens in regulation. “I wasn’t thinking about 59 or 62 or anything like that. I just wanted to keep hitting good shots and keep making some birdies.”
He had several chances down the stretch but his focus stalled when his group, the first of the afternoon wave, caught up with another group that slowed the pace with an extended ball search.
“I had the momentum going after 11 and we started waiting 15 to 20 minutes on every hole,” he said. “That damaged my momentum. It’s my fault. I’m the one who let it bother me. I should have slowed down and take it for what it was but I let it get the best of me.”
Despite missing several late chances at birdie, Gainey finds himself clinging to a lead on a tightly-packed leaderboard.
“That’s the good thing but the bad thing is that three birdies in the last five holes give me a four-shot lead instead of a one-shot lead,” he said. “When you have a chance to extend the lead, you’ve got to take advantage of it because it can come back and haunt you after the final round.”
Second-Round Notes: Michael Sims withdrew due to an ankle injury. … First-round leader Peter Tomasulo shot an even-par 72 and is at 10-under 134. Tomasulo had 31 putts during his second round, compared to just 23 during his opening-day 62. … Brett Guetz (73-64) and Doug LaBelle II (74-63) were the only two players to post an over-par score in either round and still survive the 36-hole cut. … Peter Gustafsson had two eagles, both on par 5s (#6, #11). … Brendan Steele and Josh Broadaway both shot a 6-under 30 on the front nine.
Doug LaBelle II matched the lowest round of his career (fifth time) and the lowest round of the day (Josh Broadaway) with a 9-under 63 that included four consecutive birdies to close his round. LaBelle is at 7-under 137 after two days. … Friday’s scoring average on the par-72 course 69.735. … Of the 68 players who made the cut, 56 have chalked up at least 10 birdies each. Joe Affrunti and Josh Broadaway lead the field with 16 through two days. … Of those that didn’t make the cut, 21 of those had 10 birdies or more.
Kevin Chappell, No. 2 on the money list, shot rounds of 69-71and missed the cut. Chappell opened with rounds of 61-63 at last week’s Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic, setting a record for the lowest opening 36-hole score in Nationwide Tour history. … Brice Garnett (66-70) has been perfect off the tee, hitting 28 of 28 in two days. James Hahn, Colt Knost and Chris Mundorf have each hit 27 of 28. … Tommy Gainey leads the field in Greens in Regulation with 33 of 36 for 91.7 percent. … Andrew Buckle leads the field in putting with 51 through the first two days. … 21 of the top-25 money winners teed it up this week. Missing from the field are Bobby Gates, Ewan Porter (British Open), Steve Pate and Fran Quinn.