Andres Gonzales rolled in a six-foot birdie putt on the final hole late Friday to reclaim sole possession of the lead at the halfway point of the Soboba Golf Classic on the Nationwide Tour. Gonzales led by two after the opening round and threatened to run away from the field after chalking up three birdies on his first six holes to reach 7 under par.
“The greens got bumpy towards the end of the day and the wind picked up,” said Gonzales. “I played nicely on the front nine and then just missed some putts that could have gone in but didn’t. That’s golf.”
Gonzales stumbled with three bogeys on the back nine to relinquish sole possession of the lead and drop into a tie before holing his final putt. He finished with a 1-under 70 and is at 5-under 137 after two trips around The Country Club at Soboba Springs course.
Shawn Stefani (68) holds down second place, one back of Gonzales, who lost a playoff in this event last year when the tournament was contested in the fall.
San Diego’s Aaron Goldberg (68) and veteran Joe Durant (67) share third place at 3-under 139. Reid Edstrom (69) and Australia’s Alistair Presnell (68) are three back.
“I would have liked to play a little bit better on the back side, but I’m still in position to win a golf tournament,” said Gonzales, who is looking for his first career title. “That’s all you can ask for going into the weekend.”
Stefani moved into contention with yet another sub-par score. The 30-year-old Texan has been racking them up on a regular basis. He has three consecutive top-20 finishes on the Nationwide Tour and is coming off a tie for 36th at last week’s Shell Houston Open, his first made cut on the PGA Tour.
“I think knowing that I can compete with those guys on a golf course like that with a good field gives me a lot of confidence to play well,” said Stefani, who lives about five miles from the Redstone Golf Club in suburban Houston and calls it home. “You plan on doing it. You prepare to do it but to actually go and do it and then play well and have all my family and friends there was pretty cool.”
Stefani has seen his confidence grow during the early stages of his rookie season.
“I have been playing well and it’s been nice,” said Stefani, who is No. 21 on the money list. “To start the year off as well as I have has been fun. In order to play well you have to think well, you have to do things well and you have go get good breaks.”
Stefani got a huge break on his ninth hole of the day, the 521-yard, par-5 18th, which has a water hazard on the left side of the fairway near the green. His second shot, a 5-iron from 210 yards out of the rough came up short.
“It was enough club, but I didn’t hit it very solid,” he said. “It ends up hitting in front of the green, hits the rock, hits the hazard stake and stays up and doesn’t go in the water.”
Stefani had to get into the water to hit his third shot but wound up making par.
“That was the turning point of the day,” he said. “You need breaks like that to either turn around a round or to keep momentum going. That one did both.”
Stefani says that sometimes breaks like that go hand-in-hand with good golf.
“You can talk to any professional golfer and everyone will tell you that while they’re playing good, they get good breaks and they have good luck and good things happen,” he said. “When you’re playing bad, you usually hit bad shots, you get bad breaks and you have bad luck.”
David Berganio Jr., a three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour, posted scores of 70-74 (+3) to make the 36-hole cut. Berganio, who has been troubled by back problems for several years, is making his first start of any kind since the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee -- a span of 2 years, 8 months and 21 days.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “It’s in me. I still play good, I just can’t play. It hurts. I do everything I’m supposed to do. Work out. Chiropractor. Stretch. Nobody knows what it’s like to be on the sideline. It’s in there. I just don’t know how to get rid of this back pain.”
The last time he made a cut on the PGA Tour was at the 2009 HP Byron Nelson Championship (T69), a span of 2-years, 10 months and 14 days.
“It’s very satisfying to be here on the weekend. The real pressure’s off,” he added. “I don’t have any pressure on me. I don’t come out here and play golf because I have to because I need the money and have to play. I don’t have that pressure. I play because I love it. It’s just a walk in the park for us right now.”
Berganio’s last start on the Nationwide Tour was the 2008 Melwood Prince George’s County Open (missed cut). The last time he made a cut on the NWT was at the 2007 LaSalle Bank Open (tied for 27th). Berganio’s wins came at the 1996 Monterrey Open in Mexico, the 1999 Permian Basin Open and the 2000 Omaha Classic.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time, maybe since 2008,” he said. “I’m going to play next week and then we’ll see how I feel. I want to play and really believe I have some golf life left in me.”
--Will MacKenzie withdrew during the second round due to illness. Brett Wetterich withdrew during the second round due to a back injury. Brenden Pappas (74-72) was disqualified after signing an incorrect scorecard following the second round.
--A total of 72 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 4-over-par 146. The cut hovered at 3 over most of the day, but a late bogey moved the line and allowed 13 players tied at 4 over to play the weekend. This is the first time in the tournament’s four-year history that the cut has been over par.
-Andres Gonzales was the only player in the field to post a bogey-free score on Thursday. He played the first 10 holes on Friday to make it 28 in a row before he stumbled with a bogey at No. 11.
--Shawn Stefani has now posted 14 consecutive rounds below par. Stefani had four sub-par scores at the Chile Classic (tied for 17th) and four at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open (tied for 13th). He was a Monday qualifier at last week’s Shell Houston Open where he posted scores of 71-71-71-70 to finish at 5-under 283 and run his streak to 12 in a row. He has carded rounds of 70-68 to start the week here.
--Patrick Moore, the 2002 Nationwide Tour Player of the Year, failed to make the cut after shooting scores of 78-76. This was his first start on any Tour since the 2010 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open, as Moore has been plagued by injuries since the 2004 campaign and has struggled just to play on an intermittent basis. Moore played four PGA Tour events in 2009 and four in 2010 but did not make the cut in any of those.
Since winning three times and leading the Nationwide Tour money list in 2002, Moore had made only 11 NWT starts. The last time he made an NWT cut was at the 2003 Permian Basin Classic (tied for 41st). The last time he made a cut on the PGA Tour was the 2004 John Deere Classic (tied for 74th).
--Oregon State’s Diego Velasquez, a Monday qualifier, turned in the best score of the first two days with a 5-under 66. Velasquez, who opened with a 5-over 76 Thursday, birdied his final three holes to finish at even-par 142. He is tied for 12th heading into the third round.
--The Nationwide Tour will move to northern California next week for the TPC Stonebrae Championship at the TPC Stonebrae in Hayward.