Monday qualifier Hoffman charges to second-round lead at WNB Classic

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PGA.com news services

Series: Web.com Tour

MIDLAND, Texas – Monday qualifier Morgan Hoffman fired an 8-under 64 in Friday’s second round of the Web.com Tour’s WNB Golf Classic and will take a three-stroke lead into the weekend at Midland Country Club.

Hoffmann, who shot 9-under 63 in the Monday Qualifier to gain a spot in the field of 156, stands at 12-under 132, three in front of Jamie Lovemark and defending champion Danny Lee.

WNB GOLF CLASSIC

The WNB Golf Classic has been a Web.com Tour fixture since 1992, when it debuted as the Ben Hogan Permian Basin Open.

Lovemark, the 2010 Tour Player of the Year, is finally getting healthy after back surgery in August of last year cut short his rookie season on the PGA Tour. He posted a 3-under 69 while Lee opened with a bogey but then racked up 10 birdies the rest of the way for a 63, one off the course record.

Craig Bowden posted a 7-under 65 and is at 8-under 136 along with Australian Cameron Percy (68).

Michigan native Matt Harmon (66) and 2003 champion D.J. Brigman (68) are tied for sixth at 7 under, five back of the leader.

Hoffmann has been on a torrid pace this week and is unofficially 38 under par for five days. The former Oklahoma State All-America shot a 9-under 62 during his practice round Sunday and came back a day later to duplicate it and gain a berth in this week’s event.

Hoffman played a practice round Tuesday with fellow Jupiter, Fla., residents Lovemark and Derek Fathauer and carded a 64, which he said earned him “about $20” in their informal skins game. Add to that a 4-under 68 in Thursday’s opener and a 64 Friday and you come up with a confident player on a hot streak.

“I’m playing the best golf of my life,” said Hoffmann, who is No. 103 on the money list. “I’m just trying to go out there and try to have fun and not think about anything.”

The 2009 Phil Mickelson Award winner as the nation’s top college freshman player, Hoffman turned pro after his junior season with the Cowboys and has been dealing with the promise of a bright future following a standout amateur career that included stints on the 2009 United States Walker Cup and Palmer Cup teams.

Things have changed in the past month for the 23-year-old from New Jersey, namely his attitude.

“I felt a lot more pressure and felt like I had to live up to expectations. I was just trying to hit it too close and put too much pressure on certain shots. I felt like I needed to make putts,” he said. “It’s a huge learning experience for me and so I’m trying to be relaxed over every shot. It’s such a big change from when I first went out – my attitude was that I needed to be on the PGA Tour right now! When you turn pro, you need to be on the PGA Tour! It’s not like that.”

Hoffmann has no status on any tour and has been in search of a place to play full-time this year. He has been relegated to Monday qualifiers (this is his fourth successful effort), sponsor exemptions (he received two) and top-25 finishes (tie for fourth at the United Leasing Championship and tie for ninth at the Utah Championship) to hone his game.

“I think if I’m just a free spirit and go out there and just try to have fun, I think the golf is going to happen,” he said.

The golf is happening and the scores are lower partly because he’s better on the greens.

“My putter was aligned a cup to the left on a 10-footer,” he said. “It will help a little bit if it’s aligned correctly.”

Hoffman, a big hitter who leads the field in driving distance (328.3), took advantage of the par 5 s and chalked up two eagles and a birdie on the big holes. He and Lovemark are both 8 under on the quartet of holes that sometimes required only an 8-iron for a second shot.

Lovemark, a first-day co-leader, continued his improved short-game play and moved into contention as he gained confidence with his new belly putter.

“I was a little tentative starting the round yesterday. It was hard to trust it,” he said. “I didn’t miss anything but I didn’t make anything outside of 10 feet.”

--Luke Guthrie, winner of last week’s Albertsons Boise Open, shot a 6-under 66 that featured a hole-in-one on his second hole of the day. Guthrie started on the back nine and used a 6-iron to ace the 174-yard 11th hole.

“The pin was in the shade so we couldn’t see it go in,” said Guthrie. “I got suspicious about halfway up to the green because I didn’t think I hit it over.”

The ace was the fourth of Guthrie’s life and his third in competition. His last hole-in-one came during his freshman year at the University of Illinois, and he moved up from a tie for 57th after the first round to a tie for eighth after the second round.

Second-Round Notes:

--A total of 68 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 1-under 143. That is the highest in this event since 2008, when the cut came at even-par 144.

--Brenden Pappas (75) withdrew prior to the start of the second round.

--Morgan Hoffman will be trying to become the 21st Monday Qualifier in the Tour’s 23-year history to win a tournament. The last Monday Qualifier to win was Ted Potter Jr. at the 2011 South Georgia Classic.

--First-round co-leader Aaron Goldberg shot a 1-over 73 and is at 5-under 139, tied for 14th.

--Craig Bowden leads the field in par-3 scoring average (5 under) and putts per round (24). Bowden has played the par 5s in even par the first two days. Morgan Hoffman is tied for first in par-4 scoring average (6 under) and par-5 scoring average (8 under) but it is 2 over on the par 3s.

--Jamie Lovemark had back surgery after nine events in his rookie season in 2011 and started 2012 on a Major Medical Extenstion. Coupled with 2011 earnings ($34,693), he had 16 events to make $633,473, equaling No. 125 from the 2011 PGA Tour money list to extend his extension through the remainder of the season. The John Deere Classic was his 16th start and only a victory would have allowed him to continue. He was tied for eighth after 54 holes but finished tied for 45th with a 75 on the last day to lose his Tour card.

He has made four cuts in seven Web.com Tour starts this year with his best finish a  tie for 11th at the Midwest Classic. He entered the week No. 142 on the money list.

--Danny Lee charged up the leaderboard late Friday afternoon with his round of 63 that included three consecutive birdies to close his day. Lee, who had only 22 putts on the day, is attempting to become the first player to successfully defend a title in Tour history. His career low is a 9-under 62 in the fourth round of the 2011 Mylan Classic.

--Lee has made 11 cuts in 22 starts on the PGA Tour this year. He has a pair of top-25 finishes and is No. 169 on the money list. Lee finished No. 6 on the 2011 Web.com Tour money list and earned his PGA Tour card for the 2012 season.

--Lee, winner here in 2011, becomes the first champion to return to try and defend his title since 2004 title holder Charley Hoffman came back in 2005.

--Over the years, only nine of 20 WNB Golf Classic champions (including Lee) have returned the following year to try and defend their title. Of the previous eight who came back, only two made the 36-hole cut – Franklin Langham, 1993 winner, tied for 26th in 1994; Charley Hoffman, 2004 winner, tied for 63rd in 2005. Four past winners have never returned to play in this event – Chad Campbell (2001), Brandt Snedeker (2006), Marc Leishman (2008) and Garrett Willis (2009).

--The hardest hole on the course over the first two days is the 431-yard, par-4 10th hole. The hole has a cumulative scoring average of 4.252.

--The Web.com Tour moves to east next week for the Chiquita Classic in suburban Charlotte, N.C. The tournament will be held Sept. 24-30 at The Club at Longview in Weddington, moving there after being held near Cincinnati the past two years. Last year Russell Knox cruised to a three-stroke win at TPC River’s Bend, finishing at 25 under par for his first career title.