OMAHA, Neb. – Luke Guthrie is in only his second start as a professional on the Web.com Tour and he is already threatening to re-write the record book. The University of Illinois All-American has chalked up a whopping 22 birdies in his first 36 holes at the Cox Classic to grab a three-stroke lead at the halfway point.
Guthrie birdied his final four holes and matched the tournament record with a 7-under 29 on the back nine to close out a late charging 8-under 63 at the Champions Run course. His 17-under par score of 125 broke the tourney record of 16-under set by Ryan Hietala in 2008.
His 125 total also equals the second-lowest opening-36 hole score in Tour history.
His 22 birdies is a Tour mark for the most in the first two rounds of a tournament. Webb Simpson had 20 at the halfway mark of the 2008 Chattanooga Classic.
Guthrie missed out on the Tour’s record for most strokes under par after 36 holes because he double bogeyed the first hole – twice in two days. Oh, and he also has another bogey on his scorecard.
“That’s pretty nuts,” said Guthrie when told of his accomplishments. “When you tee it up on the first hole, you don’t think that you need to make 12 birdies today or 10 birdies today. I’ve just been trying to hit each shot the best I can.”
The shots have all been pretty good, save for a couple of hiccups. The 22-year-old started slowly with a double bogey at No. 1.
“I was in a divot in the middle of the fairway. It was a nasty lie and I hit an even nastier shot out of it,” he said. “I had 170 yards to the pin but the ball flew about 130 and wound up in the hazard and didn’t get up-and-down.”
That noise heard Friday afternoon wasn’t the wind rushing over the Central Plains it was Guthrie rushing past field.
“There are a lot of great birdie chances out here. You’ve just got to put your head down and play some golf,” he said. “I wasn’t controlling my distances on the front but on the back nine I started putting it in spots where I could hole some putts.”
And that’s what he did, making them from long and short, closing with a slippery downhiller from 15 feet at No. 18. That gave him 50 putts for two days, which puts him tied for first in that category. He’s also tied for third in greens in regulation, having missed only four in two days.
“Coming out here I knew I wasn’t going to tee it up with the lead,” said Guthrie, who shared the 18-hole lead with Bubba Dickerson and Aaron Goldberg. “There’s still plenty of golf to play and I have to golf my ball. Seventeen-under is not going to win this golf tournament.”
At this pace, the tournament’s 72-hole record of 26 under par could be in jeopardy along with the Tour mark of 30 under par.
Guthrie has been pretty average on the front nine – he’s overcome those nasty doubles and is a cumulative 4 under par, but he’s been magnificent on the back nine where he has 14 birdies, three pars and one bogey over two days. Taking just his back nine scores on the par-36 side, he’s 13 under for 18 holes and has taken only 59 strokes.
For much of the sweltering afternoon, it appeared that Tag Riding’s 14-under score would be good enough for the lead. Instead, the former Arkansas Razorback will start the weekend in second place and have an up-close look at Guthrie’s magic in Saturday’s third round.
Brian Stuard, one of four players to post a 63, is at 13 under par and holding down third place.
Five shots back are 45-year-old Australian Peter Lonard (64), Canada’s Brad Fritsch (64), Steve LeBrun (64) and Rob Oppenheim, who carded a 10-under 61.
Matt Weibring (63) and Ben Kohles (66) are tied for eighth and six off the pace. Kohles, winner at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational where he beat Guthrie in a playoff, bogeyed his final two holes late Friday.
--Matt Hendrix recorded the fifth double eagle in tournament history when he made a 2 on the par-5 10th hole, his first hole of the afternoon. Hendrix’s tee shot settled in the left rough on the 563-yard, downhill hole and watched as his second shot, a 4-iron from 218 yards, found the cup.
“It was on line the whole time,” said Hendrix, who went from 2 over to 1 under par. “It cleared the bunker and it looked like it stopped. It must have dropped at the last minute.”
Hendrix was also happy to finally make one to match his younger brother.
“Now he doesn’t have that one on me,” he said. “I feel like texting him right now.”
Hendrix shot a 6-under 65, but his 4-under 138 total missed the cut by two shots.
--Friday marked the 49th consecutive day without any measureable rain at the Champions Run course.
--Luke Guthrie’s 22 birdies through 36 holes is a Web.com Tour record. Webb Simpson had 20 birdies in his first two rounds at the 2008 Chattanooga Classic, and was 19 under after 36 holes with one bogey on his card. He finished second that week, losing a playoff to Arjun Atwal.
--Guthrie’s 125 total ties the second-lowest opening-36 hole score in Tour history.
--Guthrie’s 17-under-par score breaks the tournament’s 36-hole record of 16 under set by Ryan Hietala in 2008. Hietala finished at 19 under that year and won in a playoff.
--Guthrie’s three-stroke lead ties the tournament record for the largest 36-hole lead set by Chris Smith in 1997. Smith went on to win by a then-Tour record of 11 strokes.
--The Tour record for most strokes under par after 36 holes is 19 under. Webb Simpson did it at the 2008 Chattanooga Classic and Kevin Chappell did it at the 2010 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic. Simpson had 20 birdies and one bogey. Chappell had 19 birdies. Guthrie has 22 birdies, one bogey and two double bogeys. (Neither Simpson nor Chappell went on to win in those weeks.) Simpson had 20 birdies in his opening two rounds in Chattanooga.
--The Tour record for most birdies over 72 holes is 31. Craig Lile set the mark in 2002, but wound up 24 under par and two back of winner Bo Van Pelt. Steve Wheatcroft also had 31 birdies at last year’s Melwood Prince George’s County Open, where he blitzed the field by a Tour-record 12 strokes.
--Guthrie is making only his fifth start as a professional but he continues his red-hot summer. Since turning pro after the NCAA Championship, he has four top-20 finishes and has earned $371,071 in that span. In three PGA Tour starts, he tied for 19th at the FedEx St. Jude’s Classic, tied for fifth at the John Deere Classic and tied for 18th at the True South Classic. Last week at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, he lost a playoff to Ben Kohles. With his 9-under 62 in the first round and his 8-under 63 in the second, his scoring average for his first 18 rounds as a pro is 67.61.
--Leading money winner Casey Wittenberg bounced back from an opening-round 70 to shoot 66 and advance to the weekend. Wittenberg, the Tour’s only two-time winner this year, is at 6-under 136 and is tied for 58th.
--Rob Oppenheim’s 10-under 61 is a career-low score for him. Oppenheim’s previous best was 64, which he shot at the 2010 Chattanooga Classic and the 2011 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
--Matt Weibring’s 8-under 63 matches his career-low on the Web.com Tour. Weibring has previously posted 63s on five occasions, the most recent coming in the final round at the 2011 Midwest Classic.
--Ben Martin and Andy Pope posted 6-under 29s on the front nine. Philip Pettitt, Brad Fritsch and Matt Weibring all shot 6-under 30s on the back nine. Pettitt had 10 birdies on the day and shot a 7-under 64. Weibring had nine birdies and shot 63.
--Andy Winings ran off a string of five consecutive birdies on Nos. 4-9.
--Chris DeForest matched the biggest turnaround in tournament history with his 8-under 63. DeForest posted a 6-over 77 in the opener. His 14-stroke difference equals the 14-shot improvement by Kevin Muncrief (81-67) in the first and second rounds in 2005. Strangely, DeForest hit seven of 14 fairways in both rounds.
--Steve LeBrun closed his second round with five consecutive birdies for a 7-under 64. The Tour record for most birdies in a row to finish a round is six, which has been done four times.
--The 315-yard ninth hole has been the easiest par 4 on Tour for six consecutive years. Annually, it plays to a scoring average around 3.5. There have been between 15 and 18 eagles made on the hole in each of the past six years. There were four eagles recorded on the hole in the first round and there were nine more in the second round.
--A total of 77 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 6-under-par 138. This is the third straight year the cut has been at 6 under. The lowest cut in Tour history is 7 under par, at the 1991 Dakota Dunes Open, 2004 Henrico County Open and 2006 Chattanooga Classic.