With three birdies in his first five holes, Jerry Kelly moved within a shot of the lead currently being held by Kyle Stanley and now Rory Sabbatini.
When you look at the numbers, it’s no wonder Kelly is contention. He’s in the top 10 in the field in driving accuracy and putting and is tied for 12th in greens in regulation -- only a 50 percent clip in a windblown first round kept him from ranking higher.
It’s been a slow couple of weeks for Kelly, though -- he missed the cut in Phoenix then tied for 50th in Mexico. Saturday has been a different story, however, with Kelly yet to miss a fairway and having hit all but one green in regulation. He’s also taken just six putts.
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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.
Pat Perez had one goal on Saturday. He wanted to get into double digits so he could have a chance in the final round.
So that’s exactly what Perez did. He fired a bogey-free 63 that moved him to 10 under and included a 30 on the back nine.
“I struggled a little on the front, but the back … I don’t know,” Perez said. “Usually there are a couple of holes on that back that I’m not comfortable with but I was hitting the driver really good. I’ve got some confidence going with it.
“I’m going to go for broke tomorrow. That’s been my mentality since I won (at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic). If I’m not winning, I need to work on something else.”
His 63 came in the group immediately behind Jerry Kelly, who also shot 7 under. And like Kelly, Perez expects to have a lot of ground to make up on Sunday.
“I think the leader gets somewhere 16, 17,” Perez said. “My goal was to try to get to 10, and if I get there earlier, I just keep moving up the board. It’s going to be real close to 20, if not more, if the course is like this tomorrow. So I’ve got a long way to go.”
The second hole offered some interesting opportunities on Saturday. Tournament officials moved the tees up about 88 yards so players could try to drive the green.
So the par 4 was playing at 301 yards on Saturday. There were three eagles, 34 birdies and 37 pars and the hole played to a par of 3.459.
"I've got to commend the TOUR staff on how they set this course up," said Jerry Kelly, who made one of the eagles at No. 2 in his round of 63. "It was really fun out there. And then, No. 2, drivable? I've never seen that before.
"I think that was a really cool thing they brought in -- put the pin up front where there's not much room right or left. If you wind up pin-high, it's a tough chip. That kind of inventiveness, I think is pretty cool."
Kelly hit his drive into the right front greenside bunker at No. 2 and then holed it from 52 feet. He went on to shoot 29 on the front nine, which was one shot off the record low.
"When I was 7 under through 11, I was thinking 59, course record -- all those things go through your head," Kelly said. "It's usually not a bad thing for me. Keeps me motivated to make more birdies. Got a little zealous at 12, knocked it 15 feet past for birdie and wound-up three-putting. That kind of put the brakes on."
Kelly was three strokes off the lead when he finished -- but the leaders had not yet teed off. He knows that at 10 under he'll have some work to do on Sunday.
"We were talking about that coming up the stretch, and I said, I've got to get one or two more because at 10, I'm going to probably be six, seven back," Kelly said. "We'll see what happens. I mean, this is an awesome golf course, but without any wind and the greens being receptive, it just shows how good these guys are."
The leaders are still an hour from teeing off but the tone for the day has been set. Go low or get left behind.
Jerry Kelly just finished off a round of 63 while Pat Perez, waiting in the fairway to hit his approach at the 18th hole is also 7 under for the day. They’ve moved to 10 under and three strokes off the overnight lead.
Rickie Fowler finished off a round of 64 five groups ahead of them. The young phenom, who played in pink and white checked pants in honor of Pink Out II is 9 under for the tournament now.
Paul Casey and Lee Janzen are working on low numbers, too. Casey if 5 under through 11 holes while Janzen just made the turn in 30.
Should be a fun afternoon.
For a guy who just shot 66, Jerry Kelly didn’t sound very happy after he walked off the 18th green.
“There’s no excuse for the greens,” said Kelly, who started the day outside the cut line and ended it, at least for now, in the top 20. “They’re soft. They’re spongy. They don’t roll true in the afternoon. They can’t keep them short enough.
“I know it was a tough winter, but I just don’t know what’s going on. I’d rather play on mud and dirt like we used to sometimes than play on a first cut. It’s like an old fringe. It’s slower than an old fringe, but when you get it downgrain it’s so fast because it’s so long it’s laying down.”
Kelly’s right in that it was a tough winter and a long one. Because of that, the rough hasn’t grown and the greens aren’t what they were in year’s past at least in terms of firmness and speed.
“I just remember what it was in the past,” Kelly continued. “This is what, the fourth year? There’s no excuse. It just used to be so much harder to get at tucked pins. It’s a whole lot easier right now.”
Case in point: On the 10th hole when the pin was on the right side of the green, Kelly said you’d have to hit it left of the flag and let the ball feed down. Now? “You can go right at it,” he said.
Aside from the conditions of the greens, which Kelly hopes are stressed by the weekend, he was pleased with a quick turnaround from his opening-round 73. Kelly had a visit with his coach Thursday night and they two were able to identify that Kelly was moving his right shoulder too much into the ball on his swing, which got him tilted and out of position.
Once that was fixed, Kelly was able to take advantage of good scoring conditions. Just like everyone else it seems. -- Brian Wacker