Jhonattan Vegas is a rookie, but he sure isn’t playing like one. Through his first nine holes, Vegas has two birdies, an eagle and nary a bogey. He’s also taken just 13 putts and has a two-shot lead.
But a lot can change quickly at the Bob Hope Classic and there are a handful of players still in contention, including defending champion Bill Haas, who is 3 under through 10 holes and four shots back.
Also in the hunt is Brian Gay. He’s 10 under on his round and four back. but he also has just one hole left so he’ll need Vegas and others to go backwards.
It’s early in the final round, but Jhonattan Vegas has acquited himself well so far at 1 under through three holes to take a one-shot lead over Gary Woodland, who is even par.
The day’s best round, however, belongs to Brian Gay. He’s 7 under through 11 holes with eight birdies and just one bogey after starting on the back nine at the Palmer Course, which is the only course in play today. As a result, Gay has climbed 31 spots on the leaderboard and is in a tie for sixth three shots off the lead.
In all, there are a dozen players, including defending champ Bill Haas, within five shots of the lead.
Lost in the Roland Thatcher Cinderella story, or the three-way tie for the Kodak Challenge lead has been Brian Gay’s round. Quietly, he’s putting together one of the best rounds of the day and week at 7 under through 13 holes Friday, which has him in a tie for second at 12 under for the week.
Gay, who last we saw withdrew from the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open because of a neck injury, has just one bogey all week and today has taken just 19 putts.
While Gay’s card is safe for next year -- he’s 59th on the money list -- he does have only two top-10s this season, the last of which came in May at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, where he tied for second.
He’s also the lone player on the leaderboard who has a chance -- albeit an outside one -- to sniff the lead. -- Brian Wacker
The best round of the day, so far at least, belongs to Jerry Kelly, who shot a 63 that included a 30 on the front nine. That’s been far from the only low number, though.
Five others, including Brian Gay, who needed just 25 putts Friday, are in with 65s, while nine others, including leader David Toms, are in the clubhouse with 66s.
How much lower is the scoring? Well, the course is playing to an average of 69.127 at the moment. That’s nearly a full stroke lower than Thursday when it played to a 69.924 average. And with very little wind so far, that gap shouldn’t close much if at all.
Here are a few notes on key players who began their second rounds in the afternoon:
TIGER WOODS: Has yet to rank better than 100th in his 20 weeks ranked in the 2010 FedExCup standings. He moved to 100th (best rank of season) after a T4 at the U.S. Open but has since fallen back to 112th. Woods, the first-round co-leader after an opening 65, could potentially crack the top 30 this week with a fourth or better finish at week's end. In order for Tiger to advance to the top 100, he’ll likely need to finish between 50th and 57th.
VAUGHN TAYLOR: Has not ranked worse than 74th in the standings in the 33 weeks of the regular season on the strength of five top-10s. Taylor, the first-round co-leader after a 6-under 65, is looking to make THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola for the first time in the FedExCup era. His previous best finish in the standings was 63rd at the end of the inaugural FedExCup season in 2007.
RYAN PALMER: One of six players to have held the No. 1 spot in the FedExCup standings at any point during the 2010 regular season (weeks 2-3). After ranking inside the top 30 for the first 21 weeks of the regular season, Palmer fell outside after missing five consecutive cuts. However, Palmer righted the ship with a runner-up at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, moving back inside the top 30 entering the PLAYOFFS.
BRIAN GAY: Currently ranked 51st in the standings, Gay is looking to make THE TOUR Championship for the second consecutive season. Last year, Gay finished 21st in the standings. He has not ranked worse than 63rd in any week during the regular season (all 33 weeks inside top 70).
CAMILO VILLEGAS: Currently ranked 15th in the standings, Villegas is one of five players with two or more victories in the Playoffs. Villegas is also tied with Steve Stricker for most top 10s in the Playoffs (each have seven). In 2008, his best showing in the FedExCup, Villegas vaulted 40 spots in the standings during the Playoffs thanks to his back-to-back wins at the BWM Championship and THE TOUR Championship.
MATT KUCHAR: Currently 9th, Matt Kuchar is the second-highest ranked player on TOUR without a win this year (behind Jeff Overton). Kuchar has a TOUR-leading and career-best nine top 10s in his 21 starts of the 2010 regular season. Kuchar has not ranked worse than 12th in the standings in the 33 weeks of the regular season.
Brian Gay shot a 5-under 66, one shot off the pace, in Thursday’s first round. In doing so, he hit 11 of 14 fairways, a success rate of 78.6 percent.
That’s no surprise, given that Gay is one of the PGA TOUR’s most accurate drivers. He ranks third in driving accuracy this year, was sixth last year, 17th in 2008 and ninth in 2007.
But it’s in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup that Gay really shows off his accuracy off the tee.
No player in the first three years of the Playoffs has been more accurate than Gay. In 34 Playoffs rounds coming into this week, Gay has hit 76.5 percent of his fairways.
The second-most accurate player in the Playoffs, Heath Slocum, also played well on Thursday. The defending Barclays champion opened with a bogey-free 4-under 67. Like Gay, he hit 11 of 14 fairways.
Here’s the ShotLink stats for driving accuracy in the first three years of the Playoffs (minimum of 18 rounds).
ALL-TIME DRIVING ACCURACY LEADERS IN THE PLAYOFFS
|Player||Driving accuracy pct.||Rounds played in Playoffs|
|Brian Gay||76.5 percent||34|
|Heath Slocum||76.4 percent||40|
|Ian Poulter||75.9 percent||24|
|Brian Davis||75.2 percent||30|
|John Mallinger||75.2 percent||34|
Brian Gay birdied four of his first six holes and deftly shook off a "hiccup" of a double bogey to finish with a 66 that left him one shot off the lead.
Gay started on the back nine and made consecutive birdie putts of 7 and 22 feet. Then he rolled in a 12-footer at the par-5 13th and missed an ace at the 15th by two inches.
He moved to 5 under with a 2-footer for birdie at the first hole. But Gay found the trees to the left side of the fairway at No. 6, chipped out, hit his third shot into the greenside bunker and fourth on the green before two-putting from 15 feet for the double.
Undaunted, Gay responded by holing a bunker for for birdie at No. 7 and making a 20-footer for birdie at No. 9 to polish off the 66. It was his best opening round since he tied for 16th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.
"The course is really, really wet," Gay, who ranks 51st in the FedExCup, said. "The ball is plugging in the fairway, the greens are soft. Pretty smooth early, though, not too much traffic. Getting pretty beat up during the day. But good solid start."
Of the early players who teed off from the 10th tee, Brian Gay has performed the best, carding a bogey-free 4-under 32 on Ridgewood’s back nine.
Gay has kept the hot hand after making the turn, with another birdie at the par-4 first hole to join Tiger Woods and Ryan Palmer for a share of the lead at 5 under.
Of his first four holes, Gay rolled in putts of 10 feet or longer on three of them.
To follow the rest of Gay’s round on ShotTracker, click here.
Before beginning their final round at the St. Jude Classic presented by Smith & Nephew, Robert Garrigus, Brian Gay and Robert Karlsson spoke to Bill Rosinski from the PGA TOUR Network on SIRIUS XM Radio.
See what Robert Garrigus, Brian Gay and Robert Karlsson had to say before teeing off.
Brian Gay was just even par through his first two rounds here at TPC Southwind. But the defending champion is making a move here in the third round, playing his last nine holes in 5 under to get within three shots of the lead.
Given the slow pace of scoring, even if Gay pars in he should be in good shape. Not surprisingly Gay has been doing it with straight driving and solid putting -- he’s missed just fairway so far and is averaging 1.5 putts per green in regulation.
The last player to successfully defend here was another guy who hit’s it straight and drains a lot of putts -- David Toms. He won in 2003 and 2004. -- Brian Wacker