The leaderboard is painted with veterans heading into the weekend of the Nationwide Tour’s News Sentinel Open. Californian John Mallinger, who has seven years of experience between the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour, backed up his opening 9-under 63 with a 7-under 65 on Friday to move to 16-under 128 and grab sole possession of the lead at the half-way point.
Knoxville native Garrett Willis, who has eight years of experience between both Tour’s, fired 6-under 66 in the second round to be two strokes back at 14-under 130. PGA Tour veteran Kirk Triplett is three back after carding eight birdies en route to posting 8-under 64 to climb to 13-under 131.
REVIEW FOX DEN
Also in the hunt are Louisiana native Brian Bateman, Georgian Paul Claxton, South Korean Sungoon Kang, former University of Georgia Bulldog and Washington native Jeff Gove who are four off the pace at 12-under 132. Bateman and Claxton have a combined 32 years of experience between the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour.
This week is Mallinger’s third Nationwide Tour event of the year. He missed the cut at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open and tied for ninth at the Stadion Classic at UGA. The 31-year-old has spent the majority of his time on the PGA Tour, where he has played 14 events.
“A win is a win,” said Mallinger, who is looking for his first win on either the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour. “Anytime you can prove to yourself and everyone else that you can win it's a good thing. The way I look at is I would take that momentum into the Fall Series.”
Mallinger began his round by chipping in for birdie on the par-5 10th hole and quickly collected three more before making the turn. He continued the birdie barrage on the front nine by two-putting the par-5 1st hole for birdie and a 25-foot putt for birdie on second hole.
Mallinger, who has made a his way around the 7,110-yard, par-72 Fox Den Country Club with only one blemish in 36 holes, matched the lowest 36-hole total in tournament history, set in 1994.
“It seems like you have to birdie every hole,” said the leader in birdies with 14. “These guys don't quit out here. I feel like by the time I tee off I'll be a few back.”
Willis, who is playing in his first Nationwide Tour event of the year, also has just one bogey through the first two rounds. The 37-year-old made a bogey on the par-4 ninth hole, his last hole of the day, after failing to get up and down from behind the green. Through two rounds he has made two eagles and 11 birdies.
“I didn’t really know what to expect after playing so well yesterday,” said Willis, who has two career wins on the Nationwide Tour. “I know when you start off on a par 5 you want to get off to a good start. I made a solid six-foot putt on the first hole and it took a lot of pressure off me to ease into my round.”
Willis has played 20 PGA Tour events this year and has collected $417,270. His opening rounds of 64-66 are his best back-to-back rounds of the year.
“If you can keep the ball in the fairways out here you’re going to give yourself tons of opportunities,” said Willis, who has hit 24 of 28 fairways. “And the greens are rolling so good. There are a lot of birdies to be had out here.”
Willis is no stranger to Fox Den Country Club. The first time he played the course was when he was a senior in high school. He lives about 15 miles away and when he’s not traveling he’ll play here on the weekends with his buddies.
“I’ll have a lot of nerves going into the weekend,” said Willis, who has family and friends in the crowds this week. “Typically once you hit that first tee shot all the nerves go away and it’s game time.”
Triplett, who has hit 31 of 36 greens in regulation, is playing in his fifth Nationwide Tour event of the season. He’s made every cut with his best finish of a tie for 12th coming at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in May. The 49-year-old has also played in seven PGA Tour events this year with his best finish coming at the Viking Classic where he finished tied for 18th.
“I made a couple of putts coming in to turn a nice day into a really good day,” said the three-time PGA Tour winner. “This course has a lot of twists and turns to it – you can’t just pound driver – so it’s not about who is closest to the green after the drive. This course forces you to hit good approach shots.”
Triplett’s two-day total of 131 is his best of the year. Of the 41 rounds he’s played this year on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour, 20 have been in the 60s.
“The mind set of the guys out here is we’re going to get after it,” he said. “We know the winning score out here is going to be around 20 under par and you don’t get to that number by aiming 30 feet away.”
--A total of 67 players made the 36-hole cut at 5-under 139. This year’s cut matched the tournament record, set in 2009.
--Jeff Gove made two eagles on the back nine en route to a 6-under 66. On the par-5 10th hole he chipped in from off the green and on the par-4 14th hole he hit driver to 50 yards and holed out with a lob wedge.
--Two-time PGA Tour winner Boo Weekley made his first start on the Nationwide Tour since the 2006 Nationwide Tour Championship. He carded rounds of 70-67 to be 7-under (tied for 29th) heading into the weekend. Weekley has played in 19 PGA Tour events this year and missed the Playoffs for the FedExCup by finishing outside the top-125 in the point standings (157th).
--Two-time winner Mathew Goggin made nine birdies en route to posting a 9-under 63, the low round of the day. Goggin began the second round tied for 79th after shooting 71 on Thursday but enters the weekend tied for 10th at 10-under 134.
--J.J. Killen, who is No. 1 on the Nationwide Tour money list, recorded a round of even par to stay at 5 under par through 36 holes. He is tied for 56th. Both Goggin and Killeen are seeking to become the first three-time winner since Michael Sim in 2009. Nine players have earned the “battlefield promotion” to the PGA Tour.
--Last week’s Midwest Classic winner, James Nitties, carded rounds of 67-68 to be 9-under 136. He’s tied for 14th.
--John Daly, who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption, recorded rounds of 70-65 to be seven shots back at 9-under 137.