Wetterich grabs Louisiana Open lead on strength of five straight birdies

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Published: Friday, March 25, 2011 | 10:13 p.m.

Brett Wetterich reeled off six birdies in his first seven holes Friday morning en route to the 36-hole lead at the Nationwide Tour’s 20th annual Chitimacha Louisiana Open. Wetterich closed with 11 consecutive pars for a second-round 65 and 10-under 132 total, three better than Charles Warren (66) and University of Florida senior Andres Echavarria (66) of Colombia. Fran Quinn (69), Matt McQuillan (66) and first-round leader Rich Barcelo (71) are tied for fourth, four off the pace.

Garth Mulroy (68), Nicholas Thompson (68), former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee (68), Aaron Watkins (71), Ron Whittaker (68) and 2009 champion Bubba Dickerson (68) share seventh place at 5-under 137.

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2011 CHITIMACHA LOUISIANA OPEN

The Chitimacha Louisiana Open is the first event on the 2011 Natonwide Tour to be played in the United States.

Wetterich, who is making his first Nationwide Tour start in five years, has stormed to the top of the leaderboard because of the accuracy of his irons. He has hit 30 of 36 greens in regulation, third-best after two days.

“I’m hitting in there and giving myself good putts at it,” he said.

Wetterich, the 2003 tournament champion, might be further in front if he put a little more muscle into his putts.

“On 9, 10 and 17 I had putts that were dead in but short,” he said. “I feel like I’m hitting good putts but they’re coming up short. Leaving them short is the frustrating part. I’d rather run it by two feet than leave it an inch short like that.”

Wetterich stormed out of the gates with a birdie at the first hole and followed it up with five in a row starting at the par-3 third. The concern, at that point, was not to start thinking about any ridiculously low numbers.

“You know in the back of your head but you try not to think about it,” he said. “You still have a lot of holes in front of you that you want to do the same thing on. You try not to think about it but somewhere in the back, it’s there.”

Wetterich also has some positive memories to call upon. He posted scores of 62-68-64-70 eight years ago to tie the tournament record with a 24-under 264 total.

“I love coming here. The course suits me perfect with the par 5s and the other holes,” he said. “You have to pay attention to what you’re doing but it just fits my eye.”

Warren, like Wetterich, is a PGA Tour member who didn’t qualify for this week’s limited-field Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

“My short game has been really poor this year,” said Warren, whose tie for 67th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic is his only payday in four starts. “My ballstriking and my driving have been as good as they need to be to compete. I just don’t think I’ve done the things I needed to do around the greens to play well.”

Warren has been steady but not spectacular through two days at Le Triomphe Country Club.

“I played solidly. My goal today was not to make a bogey and other than a missed three-footer for par on 14, I played great,” he said. “You can make every hole on this golf course a birdie hole with two good shots and you can make just about every hole on this golf course a double bogey hole with a poor tee shot.”

Echavarria, the only amateur in the field, was in the final group of the afternoon and made a back-nine run up the board with three birdies and an eagle.

“On this course, the wind dictates what the ball does and what decisions you have to make,” he said.

Echavarria, who comes from the same high school and golf club in Medellin, Colombia as former Gators Camilo and Manuel Villegas, had a decision to make about playing this week. His Florida team begins a tournament in South Carolina on Sunday, but he got the green light to compete here from his coach, Buddy Alexander.

“We sat down and talked about it,” said Echavarria, a fifth-year senior and team captain. “We have a good relationship and we evaluated the possibilities about me not being there. In the end, he said it would be a great experience for me and make me a better player.”

Echavarria gained entry into this week’s field via a top-25 finish (tie for 19th) two weeks ago at the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, where he was a sponsor exemption.

If he happens to finish in the top 25 again this week, the Medellin native says the Southeastern Conference Championships at St. Simon's Island, Fla., which will be played opposite the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrea, April 11-17, will be his top priority.

“That was the deal,” said Echavarria, who won the Gator Invitational in February. “I get to play this week here but I’m playing in the conference championship, too.”

Second-Round Notes:

--A total of 76 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at even-par 142. This is the first time in the tournament’s 20-year history that the cut has been at even par. It is the fifth time that the cut was not under par. The cut was at 6 over par in 1998 and 1 over par in 1999, 2006 and 2008.

--Jason Gore and Nate Smith withdrew during the second round due to injuries.

--Jason Schultz had two eagles (both on par 5s) during his round of 66.

--Brett Wetterich and Darron Stiles both ran off a string of five consecutive birdies. Wetterich’s streak covered holes 3-4-5-6-7 while Stiles did his damage at 4-5-6-7-8. Wetterich’s and Stiles’ five birdies in a row was one shy of the tournament record of six set by Tripp Isenhour in 2003.

--Brett Wetterich and Darron Stiles each shot a 6-under 30 on the front side, one off the tournament record of 29. Stan Utley posted a 7-under 29 in 1995. Charles Raulerson matched it in 2002 and Tom Byrum matched it again in 2008.

--Carl Paulson (66-72) is at 4-under par 138. This is the first cut Paulson has made since the 2005 B.C. Open on the PGA Tour. Paulson tied for 38th that week and then went to the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee the following week. Paulson injured his back that week and was diagnosed with three herniated discs. He did not play again until late last year when he missed the cut in three Nationwide Tour starts. He missed the cut in his two PGA Tour starts this year. Paulson is playing on a Major Medical Extension on the PGA Tour this year.

--Andrew Svoboda had a pair of eagles on the front nine Friday but neither came on a par 5. Svoboba made an eagle-2 on the 386-yard, par-4 second hole. He then added an ace at the par-3 eighth hole. Svoboda flew an 8-iron from 155 yards into the hole for his hole-in-one. He shot a 5-under 66 and is tied for 20th heading into the weekend. David Branshaw also had two eagles, on the par-4 second and par-5 12th holes.