Sweden’s Daniel Chopra fired a tournament-record, 10-under-par 62 Friday to move into a share of the 36-hole lead at the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island. Chopra was nearly perfect, one-putting 16 times, en route to a piece of the lead in the Tour finale that features the top 60 money winners battling for 25 spots on the PGA Tour next year.
Chopra posted an even-par 72 on Thursday, so his 10-under 134 total is the result of one big day. Jason Kokrak, a two-time winner this season, has posted back-to-back 67s to join Chopra heading into the weekend in the $1 million event.
NATIONWIDE TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
The top 25 players on the money list on Sunday night will earn their PGA Tour cards for 2012.
Georgia Tech’s Roberto Castro is at 8-under 136 after his second straight round of 4-under 68.
Danny Lee, winner of the WNB Golf Classic this fall, shot a 65 Friday and heads a group of three players at 7-under 137. Joining Lee are England’s Greg Owen and Colombia’s Camilo Benedetti.
Cliff Kresge and Darron Stiles, the Tour’s all-time leading money winner, are in at 6-under 138 and four off the pace.
Chopra, 37, had heads turning with a career-best effort that started with six consecutive birdies out of the gate.
“It was a dream start. The first six holes I just played flawlessly,” he said. “Every shot was just about perfect. When you get on a little dream run like that everything seems easy.”
Easy might be one word to describe the front nine, where he made seven birdies, shot 29 and needed only 10 putts. His lone two-putt came from 25 feet on the par-5 sixth hole for birdie.
Seven under through eight holes, Chopra was flirting with history – again. Earlier this year at the Fresh Express Classic, Chopra was 10 under through 17 holes on the par-70 TPC Stonebrae course but bogeyed the final hole for a 9-under 61.
“I got a little protective with my score. I was trying to guide it out there a little bit and that never works,” he said. “Maybe I got a little bit aware of it (shooting a 59) and was a tad apprehensive.”
He made the turn and settled for five pars to open the back nine before returning to a more aggressive mode that resulted in birdies on three of his final four holes.
It was almost effortless for Chopra, who is No. 24 on the money list and is looking for a big finish to return to the PGA Tour, where he has chalked up victories at the end of the 2007 campaign and another one to open the 2008 season.
“I’ve been in this same position all year long,” said Chopra, winner of the Fresh Express Classic back in April. “I felt that one good tournament would get me into safe territory but that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, come Sunday I will be in a position of worrying about winning a golf tournament instead of being in the top 25.”
Kokrak, No. 4 on the money list and already assured of a Tour spot in 2012, is playing with ‘house money’ while in search of his third victory and the spoils that go to the leading money winner -- full exemption on the PGA Tour and an exemption into The Players Championship.
“There’s really no pressure this week,” said the 26-year-old from Ohio. “I’ve got a lot of family and friends in town so it’s a nice support group for me. It’s a fun week for me.”
Kokrak has been having a blast since busting through with his first career win seven weeks ago at the Albertsons Boise Open. He added win No. 2 at the Miccosukee Championship in Miami earlier this month.
“I think you have to enter every golf tournament with the thought of winning,” said Kokrak, who will be a rookie next year. “I’ve never been here before so this is a great experience.”
Kokrak, the Tour’s biggest hitter, has been using his distance off the tee to his advantage at the 7,446-yard Daniel Island Club.
“It’s a long golf course and it plays long in the windy conditions,” he said. “I really hit the driver a lot better today and put myself in the fairway. I made a lot of good putts yesterday but today my ball-striking was there.”
--Daniel Chopra started the second round with six consecutive birdies. He is the fourth player this year to begin a round with six in a row, with Drew Weaver at the Chiquita Classic, Jonas Blixt at the Midwest Classic and Jason Kokrak at the Albertsons Boise Open being the others. The Nationwide Tour record for consecutive birdies to start a round is seven by Rocky Walcher in Round 3 of the 2000 Wichita Open.
--Daniel Chopra’s 7-under 29 matches the lowest 9-hole score on the Nationwide Tour this year. A total of 20 players have posted 29s this season – nine of them were 7-under scores (par 36) and 11 of them were 6-under scores (par 35).
--Daniel Chopra won the Fresh Express Classic back in April when the tournament’s final round was canceled due to heavy fog. Chopra grabbed the 54-hole lead with a course-record 9-under 61 in the third round. He was 10 under through 17 holes at TPC Stonebrae and needed a birdie for a 59, but came up short on his second shot at the par-4 18th and wound up missing his putt for par. Still, it was enough for the lead by one over Russell Knox, which turned into a victory when officials were forced to cancel Sunday’s final round and the results reverted back to the 54-hole standings.
--Daniel Chopra’s 20 putts Thursday matches the sixth-best putting day in Nationwide Tour history. Two players – Mike Brisky at the 2003 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open and Steven Bowditch at the 2010 Soboba Golf Classic – share the single-round record with 18 putts. Three others have had 19 putts, including Steve Wheatcroft at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open earlier this year.
--Leading money winner J.J. Killeen moved back into contention with a 4-under 68 Friday. Killeen is a 2-under 142 for the opening 36 holes and tied for 24th. Killeen got off to a rocky start Thursday and was 5 over through his first 10 holes. He rallied with three birdies down the stretch and closed with a 2-over 74. Killeen entered the week a lead of $26,603 over Ted Potter Jr. on the money list.
--First-round leader Mark Anderson of nearby Beaufort, S.C., stumbled to a 6-over-par 78 Friday. Anderson, who has enjoyed putting success in his last two starts (second and tied for seventh), three-putted four times during his round and finished the day with 37 putts. Anderson, No. 19 on the money list, had only 21 putts during his opening-round 66. He fell to a tie for 38th spot in the standings.
--With the top 25 players moving on to the PGA Tour next year, the “bubble boys” only have two more rounds to secure their spots for next season. After two rounds, No. 20 Martin Flores has shot 72-73 (+1) and is tied for 45th place; No. 21 Scott Brown has shot 75-68 (-1) and is tied for 31st; No. 22 Roberto Castro has shot 68-68 (-8) and is third; No. 23 James Nitties has shot 73-71 (E) and is tied for 38th; No. 24 Daniel Chopra has shot 72-62 (-10) and is tied for the lead; and No. 25 Billy Hurley III has shot 72-71 (-1) and is tied for 31st.
No. 26 Brett Wetterich has shot 71-69 (-4) and is tied for 14th; No. 27 Josh Broadaway has shot 72-70 (-2) and is tied for 24th; No. 28 Tommy Biershenk has shot 71-72 (-1) and is tied for 31st; No. 29 Marco Dawson has shot 75-67 (-2) and is tied for 24th; and No. 30 Darron Stiles has shot 68-70 (-6) and is tied for seventh.