The Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate is not putting up much of a defense in this week’s Midwest Classic and the Nationwide Tour players are taking full advantage of the wide fairways and soft greens. The scoreboard is awash in red ink and personal bests are being set at a torrid pace.
Australia’s James Nitties and two-time winner J.J. Killeen share the 36-hole lead with 14-under 128 totals. Nitties carded a career-best 63 in Friday’s second round to take the morning lead. Killeen, looking for his third win in four weeks, added an afternoon 6-under 65 to his opening 63 to grab his piece of first place.
The 7,251-yard, par-72 Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2001.
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Brian Vranesh, who set a career-best with his 63 on Thursday, shot a 67 and holds down third place at 12 under, two back of the co-leaders.
Veteran Scott Dunlap was on “59 watch” during his back nine, but settled for an 11-under 60 when he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on his final hole. Dunlap’s career-low score came in his 239th start and his 712th round on Tour. He is at 11-under 131 and tied for fourth with Nick Flanagan (63), Troy Kelly (64), Jason Kokrak (66) and Monday qualifier Chris Thompson (67).
Lift, clean and place conditions also contributed to the barrage of birdies.
“It’s definitely easier for scoring,” said Killeen. “You can fly anything from a 5-iron on down right at the pin and it will stop right there. You don’t have to account for roll or bounce or balls backing up too much. They pretty much stop right where they land, so you just keep firing at the pins.”
It all looks easy for Killeen, who won the Utah Championship and Cox Classic in Omaha in consecutive weeks before an opening-round hiccup at last week’s event contributed to a missed cut. He was 22 under in each of his two wins and appears to be on auto-pilot.
“As far as I know, I’ll play like this for the rest of my life,” he said with a smile. “Who knows? It’s happened to some people – they start playing well and they just never stop. I’ve definitely been a lot more consistent but even when I don’t have my best stuff I feel like I can score.”
Dunlap was the best of the best on Friday, reeling off five consecutive birdies halfway through the front nine and then again on the back nine. A missed 10-foot birdie putt cost him a chance to shoot 59.
“If I was ever going to shoot 59, I guess today was going to be the day,” said Dunlap, who started the day thinking about the weekend. “With Nationwide Tour scoring in the summer, I was thinking I had to shoot a low one just to make the cut. I needed 65 just to be here for Saturday. Shooting even-par yesterday put me behind the 8-ball and put me in the ‘offense mode’ because I needed to be, if I want to play all four days.”
Dunlap missed a couple of fairways and greens but did his damage on the greens.
“Every putt I hit looked like it could go in and that’s pretty odd for me,” he said. “I’ve been making a million birdies but I just sabotage it with dumb mistakes or I miss short putts. My golf game looks like the stock market with all the ups and down these days. This was the first round in a while where I didn’t hit any speedbumps.”
--A total of 78 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 5-under 137. There were 20 players tied at 5 under par.
--In anticipation of possible thunderstorms Friday night and Saturday afternoon, third-round tee times will run from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Play will be in threesomes off the 1st and 10th tees. Saturday’s finish time will be approximately 3:30 p.m. CT.
--Will Dodson (64-73) is the only player to make the cut and post an above-par score in either round.
--Scott Dunlap’s 60 matched the lowest score on Tour this year. Travis Hampshire posted a 12-under 60 in the opening round of the BMW Charity Pro-Am and Steve Wheatcroft shot an 11-under 60 in the second round of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. Dunlap’s 60 today bettered his previous career-best score of 62, which came in the 1998 Ozarks Open.
--Nick Flanagan’s 63 matched his career-best score on Tour. He also shot 63 at the 2006 Price Cutter Charity Championship and the 2007 Xerox Classic.
--James Nitties’ 63 bettered his career-best score of 64, set at the 2005 Chattanooga Classic. Nitties’ 128 total is also five strokes better than his previous career-best for 36 holes. He posted 133 totals at the 2005 Chattanooga Classic and the 2011 Cox Classic (two weeks ago).
--J.J. Killeen’s 128 total is a career-best for him. His previous low score for 36 holes was 129 at the 2009 Cox Classic and the 2011 Utah Championship. A win would push his season earnings to $425,586. Killeen is currently No. 2 on the 2011 money list. Mathew Goggin, who has been No. 1 for 14 of 16 events this year, is not playing this week.
--Casey Wittenberg and Bob May both shot 1-under 70s but took radically different paths. May was steady with 17 pars and 1 birdie. Wittenberg, in contrast, had 6 birdies and 5 bogeys. Both finished at 4 under and missed the cut.
--First-round co-leader Nicholas Thompson shot a 5-over 76 in the second round and missed the cut by two strokes after opening with an 8-under 63.
--Aaron Watkins (68-69--137) and Monday qualifier Chris Thompson of Lawrence, Kan. (64-67--131) are the only two players in the field without a bogey through 36 holes.
--Aaron Goldberg, Craig Bowden, Scott Brown, Billy Hurley III and Richard H. Lee each hit 26 of 28 fairways. Scott Gardiner, Troy Kelly, Cliff Kresge and Matt Weibring have each hit 32 of 36 greens. Erik Compton and J.J. Killeen each have only 48 putts through 36 holes.