BOISE, Idaho -- The distance from Seattle to Boise is approximately 500 miles, but for several players it’s as close as next door. Four players with ties to the Emerald City, including the top two who once shared the same golf coach as junior players, have their names on the leaderboard at the 23rd annual Albertsons Boise Open.
“It’s the same exact grass we have at home,” said Tacoma-born Michael Putnam, who has posted opening rounds of 62-65 for a tournament-record 15-under 129 total and a two-stroke lead over former University of Washington All-America Richard H. Lee. “We’re just comfortable with it. Little chips around the greens, where some guys grew up with Bermuda (grass) probably fools them the way Bermuda fools us.”
There’s no fooling anyone – Putnam is putting up numbers that will make members at Hillcrest Country Club scratch their heads in disbelief. The Seattle-area resident has chalked up 17 birdies in 36 holes and stamped himself as the man to beat in one of the Web.com Tour’s richest events.
“That’s a lot of birdies,” Putnam said with smile as big as the outdoors. “I’ve had it going at home but this course is perfect. It’s as easy as it’s ever been out here with zero wind and soft greens.”
The numbers back him up. Thursday’s opener produced the lowest first-round scoring average (69.365) in tournament history. Friday’s follow-up was even lower – the 68.966 was the lowest of any single round over the past 23 years.
Lee, a rookie on the PGA Tour this year, moved into contention with a 9-under 62, the best of the day and the fourth such score in two days.
“I’m not shocked that I shot 62 because I’ve been playing really well, it’s just nice to finally see the putts drop,” said Lee, who is alone in second place. “It’s all about putting. If you’re putting well you can turn a 67 into a 62.”
South Africans Tyrone van Aswegen (68) and Dawie van der Walt (65) are not only good friends as well as roommates this week, but they also share third place at 12-under par 130. Joining them is 25-year-old Sam Saunders (66), who is in his first full season on Tour but sometimes gets interviewed about his famous grandfather, Arnold Palmer.
Jeff Gove, another Seattle native, has certainly found the greens to his liking and has put up scores of 63-68 for an 11-under total that has him in sixth place, four back.
Six players are at 10 under and one shot further behind, including Luke List, No. 2 on the money list and the fourth man with Seattle ties (birthplace).
“I guess we just like it out here,” said Gove of the successful start for the quartet. “It’s a huge comfort factor. You walk up to the ball and you just know what shot to hit. And into the green, you can see the breaks so much easier.”
Jeff Klauk, making his first start in more than a year, shot scores of 71-69—140 but missed the cut. Klauk, first diagnosed with epilepsy in 2006, earned his PGA Tour card in 2009 after finishing No. 3 on the 2008 Web.com Tour money list.
He spent 2 ½ years on the PGA Tour, highlighted by his rookie season in which he made 21 cuts in 29 starts and earned $1.24 million. He started suffering from ankle and back problems in 2010 and was limited to just 13 starts. He made only eight starts last year before his year came to an end in June.
Medication has helped him control the partial seizures that have plagued him for several years but he underwent a procedure in April of this year in which 108 electrodes were attached to the inside of his skull in an attempt to locate the source of the seizures.
Ryan Hietala, a Boise transplant, posted scores of 68-71—139 and did not advance to play on the weekend. He announced earlier in the week that he isn’t retiring but rather preparing to “take a break” from competitive golf after this event. The 38-year-old will be assuming the assistant coaching duties for the men’s golf team at Boise State, among other things.
Hietala has made 234 career starts on the Web.com Tour and won twice – at the 2005 Chitimacha Louisiana Open and 2008 Cox Classic. His wife, Jennifer, who played on the BSU women’s golf team, is due to give birth to the couple’s first child within the next week.
“The last three years have been tough financially for us,” he said Thursday. “I haven’t been playing great and I’ve been spending a lot of money and incurring a lot of debt, which golfers do. That’s part of the game. It’s time for me to be a good husband and a good father.”
Hietala joined the Tour in 1999 and played one season on the PGA Tour (2006) but has decided to join Head Coach Kevin Burton’s staff and give up the nomadic life of a touring pro.
--A total of 70 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 5-under 137. The cut matched the lowest cut in the tournament’s 23-year history. The only other time the cut was at minus-5 was in 2010.
--The lowest cut on the Web.com Tour this year was 6 under par at the Cox Classic. The cut also came at 5 under at the Price Cutter Charity Championship.
--Michael Putnam’s 127 total set a tournament record for the lowest opening-36 hole score. The previous mark of 128 (14 under) was set by Kevin Stadler in 2006 and later matched by Jim McGovern (2007), Blake Adams (2008), Peter Tomasulo (2010) and Jonas Blixt (2011). Of those five, only Stadler went on to win the tournament.
--Nate Smith had two eagles Friday, both on par 5s. Smith eagled Nos. 2 and 16.
--Only two players of the 70 who made the cut posted an over-par score thus far. David Mathis had a 1-over 72 in the opening round but backed it up with a 65 on Friday. Andrew Svoboda, who shared the first-round lead with a 62, stumbled to a 1-over 72 in the second round. Every other player in the field of 70 posted par-or-better scores in both rounds.
--J.J. Killeen, the Web.com Tour’s 2011 Player of the Year making his first start on this Tour this year, fired a 5-under 66 in the second round will be around for the weekend. Killeen was a two-time winner last year and the Tour’s leading money winner. Thus far in his rookie season on the PGA Tour he has made 13 cuts in 29 starts and is No. 153 on the money list with $371,001. His only top-10 finish came at the True South Classic, where he was solo eighth.
--Patrick Cantlay, a two-time All-American at UCLA who turned pro earlier this year, posted scores of 69-70—139 (-3) and missed the 36-hole cut. Cantlay, 20, decided to forego his final two years of eligibility with the Bruins. Since becoming a professional in late June, Cantlay has made five of six cuts on the PGA Tour but his tie for 31st at the Wyndham Championship last month is his best finish thus far.
Cantlay, who was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for a record 55 weeks before turning pro, got into the Albertsons Boise Open as a Monday qualifier. He shot a 63 to win medalist honors by three shots. He won four tournaments in his freshman season at UCLA and was named winner of the Haskins Award, the Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year and the National Freshman of the Year.
--Casey Martin, 40, has carded scores of 68-67—135 (-7) in his first Web.com Tour start in nearly six years. Martin, the men’s head golf coach at the University of Oregon, made his last start on Tour (and his last cut) at the 2006 Oregon Classic (tie for 59th). Martin, winner of the 1998 Lakeland Classic, was back in the spotlight earlier this summer when he qualified for the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. He posted scores of 74-75 and missed the cut. Martin is making his seventh career start in this event – he has made the cut three times – and his first since 2005. Martin’s best finish in Boise was a tie for 30th in 2004.
--The Web.com Tour moves to Texas next week for the WNB Golf Classic. The tournament will be held at Midland Country Club Sept. 17-23. Last year Danny Lee made a par on the first playoff hole to defeat fellow rookie Harris English for his first career title.