Garnett leads Cox Classic by one shot over six players after second round

Brice Garnett
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Brice Garnett leads the Cox Classic after carding 16 birdies in his first 36 holes.
Joe Chemycz Tour Staff

Series: Champions Tour

Published: Friday, August 23, 2013 | 10:47 p.m.

OMAHA, Neb. – Brice Garnett admits he’s pretty relaxed these days. The 29-year-old from Gallatin, Mo., has already assured himself a PGA Tour card for next year and is playing with house money at this point.

Garnett blitzed the Champions Run course for an 8-under 63 Thursday that put him at 12 under par and in sole possession of the 36-hole lead at the Cox Classic, the final full-field event on the Tour schedule.

“It was a fast finish,” said Garnett, who closed with five birdies in his last six holes. “I hit a couple close coming in and had a couple of two-putt birdies. You just have to stay on the gas pedal out here and take advantage of those holes.”

Garnett posted his score early on a windy day and his lead held up as several challenged but none got closer than a stroke. Wes Roach (66), Len Mattiace (64), Matt Bettencourt (64), John Peterson (65), Bronson La’Cassie (65) and first-round co-leader Andrew Loupe (68) are knotted at 11-under 131.

Lefty Nick O’Hern (67), Russell Knox (65) and Manuel Villegas (63) are tied for eighth place and just two off the pace heading into the weekend.

Come Sunday afternoon, the 25 leading money winners for the season will earn PGA Tour cards for next year. Garnett, at No. 14, already knows he’s bound for the big show.

“This is the first week for me to be in this position. It’s just fun to play,” he said. “I know a lot of guys are feeling a lot of pressure. I’m just trying to enjoy the week and know that at the end of the week my dream will come true.”

Garnett has hit plenty of fairways and enough greens to put him atop the leaderboard for the first time in his Tour career.

“Before last week, I grinded really hard to get into this position,” said Garnett. “It’s exciting now. It’s easier to play good when you are freewheeling things.”

Garnett took last week off after a five-week stretch produced four made cuts and three top-21 finishes. The effort kept him entrenched in the top-25 and his tie for seventh at the Price Cutter Charity Championship moved him up four spots to No 13 at the time, and gave him the freedom to exhale while skipping the News Sentinel Open.

“I haven’t practiced my short game a lot,” he said after matching his career-low round. “I was trying to react around the greens. I’m going with more of what the feel should be. I’m a feel player and I was getting too analytical around the greens. My short game was sharp today.”

Second-Round Notes:

--Saturday’s play will be in threesomes off the first and 10th tees starting at 9:00 a.m. with an expected finish time of 4:00 p.m. CT.

--Brett Wetterich was disqualified prior to the start of the round for signing an incorrect scorecard on Thursday. Matt Hill withdrew prior to the start of the second round, while 

Rafael Echenique withdrew during the round because of a rib injury and Spencer Levin withdrew during the round due to illness.

--A total of 65 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 4-under 138. The cut was 6 under par each of the past three years.

--Brice Garnett’s 8-under 63 matched his career-low on the Tour. He also posted a 63 in the third round of the Chitimacha Louisiana Open earlier this year.

--This is the first time in Garnett’s career that he has held or shared the lead after any single round. His previous best position after 36 holes was a tie for second at the Chile Classic earlier this year, where he wound up after 72 holes (his career best finish).

--Garnett entered the week No. 14 on the money list. He has made nine cuts in 18 starts this year with seven top-25 finishes. Garnett has four top-10s this year – tied for second Chile Classic, third in the WNB Golf Classic, tied for sixth at the Brasil Classic and tied for seventh at the Price Cutter Charity Championship.

--Garnett leads the field in birdies with 16 thus far. Brad Elder is next with 14.

--Wes Roach, a second-year pro from Knoxville, Tenn., has three top-10 finishes on his resume for this season, including a tie for second at the Mexico Championship and a solo fifth at the Brasil Classic. The 2011 Duke University grad entered the week No. 26 on the money list. He finished No. 91 on the money list in his rookie season last year.

--Len Mattiace’s 7-under 64 matched his second-lowest score. Mattiace, 45, posted an 8-under 63 in the second round of the Utah Championship last month. His only other 64 was a 6-under 64 in the third round of 2009 Panama Claro Championship.

--Mattiace has made the cut in eight of 19 starts this year and has a pair of top-10 finishes. He tied for fourth at the Panama Claro Championship to open the year and also tied for seventh at the Rex Hospital Open. He started the week No. 80 on the money list.

--Leading money-winner Michael Putnam (67-66—133) is tied for 11th heading into the weekend and still in pursuit of the No. 1 spot at the end of the week. Putnam, a two-time winner this year, owned a $37,735 advantage over No. 2 Ben Martin when the week began.

--Ben Martin birdied his final two holes late in the afternoon for a 2-under 69 that just squeezed him into the weekend, thus leaving some drama for the top spot. Martin, also a two-time champion in 2013, three-putted the 7th hole from 15 feet for bogey and dropped to 2-under par. He rolled in a 15-footer for birdie at No. 8 and then a 10-footer at No. 9 to make the cut on the number.

Had Martin missed the cut, Putnam would have been assured of the No. 1 spot on the money list and the benefits of full exemption on the PGA Tour in 2014. Instead, Putnam must now maintain his monetary edge over the final 36 holes.

--Russell Knox (67-65—132) is the only player in the field without a bogey for the first 36 holes. Knox has birdied nine different holes thus far – his only repeat birdie has been at the par-4 13th.

--Manuel Villegas, younger brother of PGA Tour champion Camilo Villegas, posted a career-best 8-under 63 in the second round to vault into contention. The former Florida Gator is making his 28th career start on tour and his previous low was a 6-under 65 in the second round of this event in 2010. Villegas, 28, entered the week No. 128 on the money list after making three cuts in four starts this year. His best week in 2013 is a tie for seventh at the Colombia Championship. His career-best finish is a tie for sixth at the 2010 Moonah Classic in Australia.

--The 315-yard ninth hole continues to be an easy mark for the field. The driveable par 4, which has been the easiest par 4 on the Tour for the past seven consecutive years, is currently yielding a scoring average of 3.571. There have been a total of 10 eagles through the first two rounds. There were a total of 18 eagles on that hole in both 2007 and 2008, the most in any single year.