AVONDALE, La. – Ben Martin started the 2013-14 season with the goal of winning two times on the PGA TOUR. When he missed seven out of nine cuts to start 2014, it was time to rethink things.
“I was thinking about winning every week and I was missing cuts. It was really frustrating,” Martin said Friday from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
He’s since refocused his goals (he’s aiming to make the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola) and, as cliché as it might sound, the rest is starting to take care of itself. Friday he fired 67 to open up a three-shot lead at TPC Louisiana.
“Now it’s a week-by-week thing where I can say, all right, I’m creeping up the FedExCup list. I think that takes a lot of the pressure off.”
Martin entered the week No. 65 in the FedExCup standings and could vault to No. 14 with a victory.
For the second straight week, Martin has been (nearly) flawless through 36 holes, grabbing his second consecutive 36-hole lead; he finished T3 last week at the RBC Heritage. Thursday he set a course record 62 and Friday, despite making bogey at No. 17 and double at No. 18 (his eighth and ninth holes of the day), he extended his lead by two.
“That’s golfing your ball,” said caddie Alex Boyd, a former Clemson teammate who is in just his second week on the bag with Martin. “He's setting the bar high.”
Martin picked a good week to play well. A number of his family members have had the Zurich Classic circled for weeks, planning to make the trip to New Orleans since the tournament coincided with the spring break of his mother, an elementary school teacher in Greenwood, S.C.
“She's the one that took my brother and I to golf tournaments,” Martin said. “She's probably seen me play, I don't even know how many holes of golf. I think that's one of her favorite things to do.”
GOOD PUTTER: Bo Van Pelt, how would you assess your season thus far?
“Terrible,” he said with a laugh. “I think I lead the TOUR in ‘Others,’ which is not a good stat.”
Compared to the player who led the TOUR in top 10s two seasons ago, he’s got a point. Van Pelt is still without a top 10 in the 2013-14 season and he’s missed seven of 12 cuts.
But as he says, he’s trending in the right direction, thanks in part to a switch to what’s known simply as the “Kuchar Style” of putting, in which players use a longer putter and rest the excess grip against the inside of their leading forearm.
“I had been struggling a little bit and I picked one up in Tampa and just liked it right away,” he said. “I’ve always kind of been a back-of-the-left-hand putter anyway. It actually wasn’t a huge transition. I felt good with it.”
Van Pelt looked extra comfortable Friday, posting a second-round 63 that included two eagles at the back nine par 5s, Nos. 11 and 18. He thinks it’s the first time he’s had two eagles in a round since doing it two years in a row at the Masters (in the final round in 2012 he made eagle at 13 and aced the 16th; in 2011’s final round he eagled 13 and 15). During Friday’s 63, Van Pelt made five putts from outside 10 feet.
“To get under par and make a couple birdies,” he said, “it reminds you that you can still do it.”
BAD PUTTER: As far as putting goes, Billy Horschel is at his wits’ end.
He’s tried everything to get putts to drop over the past few weeks. He’s put a new putter in the bag. He’s gone through drill after drill. He’s even tried superstition, changing the way he marks and replaces his Florida Gator orange-and-blue-dotted golf ball.
“I'm sort of getting to my breaking point right now,” he said after missing the cut at Zurich, where he claimed his first PGA TOUR win a year ago. “I'm trying not to show too much on the golf course.”
What’s really making this season frustrating for Horschel is how well he’s hitting the ball. He’s third on TOUR in ball-striking and seventh in total driving. Entering this week, he was 110th on TOUR in strokes-gained putting.
“I wish I could say it's something mechanical in my stroke, that's easy to fix, but it's not,” he said. “I don't know what to do. Maybe putt blind.”
CALL OF THE DAY
Fred Albers calls Keegan Bradley's 47-foot birdie at No. 9 in the second round of the 2014 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Category Leader Stat Field average Driving distance Tag Ridings 326 289.2 Fairways hit Kyle Stanley 14 63.92% Greens in regulation Robert Allenby, Kevin Chappell, Graham DeLaet, Peter Hanson, Kyle Stanley, Daniel Summerhays 17 71.25% Proximity to hole Daniel Summerhays 19'-10" 33'-6" Strokes gained-putting Bo Van Pelt 4.54 N/A
ODDS AND ENDS
Ben Martin’s 129 total breaks the 36-hole record at TPC Louisiana by three shots. Ten of 22 36-hole leaders have gone on to win this year on TOUR. … Andrew Svoboda played his first 35 holes without a bogey, getting within two of Martin’s lead. Svoboda (12 under) will be in the final group Sunday and is in search of his first top-10 finish in his 33rd start. … Notables outside the cutline (1 under) included: Ernie Els, Billy Horschel, Rickie Fowler, LSU graduate John Peterson, Patrick Reed.
THEY SAID IT
“Somebody is going to go bananas over the weekend, especially with the way the course is playing.” – Erik Compton on scoring conditions at TPC Louisiana.
"I saw him shoot 64 in college one time, but yesterday's round was the best I've ever seen him play." -- Jim Martin, father of leader Ben Martin on his son’s hot start.
“I'm not even sure that if I played one of those 15-inch holes the ball would know how to go in.” – Billy Horschel, on his poor putting.
“I played with Desi Vega in the pro-am yesterday and went to his restaurant last night. I told him I didn’t know what I was going to shoot tomorrow, but I said 63 last night at dinner.” – Bo Van Pelt, who shot 63 Friday to move into a tie for 12th.
“I woke up a little -- maybe food poisoning, I wasn't quite sure. I was pretty sick. It was... gross.” – Keegan Bradley on how he felt Friday morning. Bradley went on to shoot 66 and climb into the top 10.
TWEETS OF THE DAY
The support was unbelievable today at the Zurich. I am very fortunate. Low one tomorrow #movingday— Andrew Loupe (@ALoupe6) April 25, 2014