By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- First, Will MacKenzie needed a sponsor's exemption to get into the Wyndham Championship. Then he needed a caddy.
So MacKenzie's agent suggested Frank Williams, Stewart Cink's long-time looper. Cink was taking a break before the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup so Williams, a Greensboro native, got a rare trip home.
"Frank is going to hook me up here, try to get me through to play well and then I'll go back to whoever will loop for me after that," MacKenzie said. "But I'm excited. I'm hitting it well, playing well enough to keep shooting low scores. That's what I got to do.
"You got to keep the pedal to the metal out here obviously. You got to hit it in the fairway off the tee. You can get a few lucky breaks in the rough but I've been hitting it in the fairway for the most part and that's key."
The two have been a good team so far. MacKenzie's had an adventurous two days -- making seven birdies, six bogeys and three eagles to move to 7 under and five strokes off the lead. Two of the eagles came on Friday as he shot a 65 despite making bogeys on his first two holes.
"It's kind of keeping me in it," MacKenzie said. "I'm making
some mistakes. ... 7:10 tee time starting on the back, I don't want
to make excuses but it's a little tougher the first two, three
holes, really difficult.
"I, of course, did exactly what I didn't want to do, got off to a bad start … but then, you know, there's so many chances out here so I played pretty well. Eagles help."
MacKenzie, a native of Greenville, N.C., has only played in 11 PGA TOUR events this year and made the cut in eight. He's a past champion but is no longer fully exempt -- and his best finish, and only top-10, actually came when he tied for fourth at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, one of his six starts on the Nationwide Tour.
"It's been -- not a great year but I've been striking it well, making cuts," MacKenzie said. "I just got to shoot a good weekend score. I need to shoot a good weekend score. And all I know, I got to play well coming into the fall whether I'm playing here or wherever."
MacKenzie currently ranks 212th on the PGA TOUR money list so he knows he needs a "humongous week" to get his card back. "I can't be in that Top 25 guy and string it together," MacKenzie said.
"I've only got here and maybe another event if I'm lucky so I'm going to have to win or come in second, and then I plan on going Nationwide (Tour) for the rest of the year."
By Zak Kozuchowski, PGATOUR.COM
Every year, Augusta National honors past Masters champions with the Champions Dinner. This year, the Reno-Tahoe Open is having a collection of past tournament champions of its own -- except it’s on top of the leaderboard.
Vaughn Taylor, winner of the event in 2004 and 2005, leads the field at 9 under. He’s shot rounds of 69-66, and is one shot ahead of 2006 champion Will MacKenzie.
“Obviously the course has to fit your eye, and then the altitude is definitely an adjustment.” Taylor said. “I think anywhere you play well when you come back, especially if you win, you come back and a lot of good memories and feelings, and, you know, it can turn things around for you.”
Champions Steve Flesch (2007), Chris Riley (2002) and Notah Begay (1999) are also all inside the top 6 on the leaderboard.
MacKenzie said it’s the idiosyncrasies of Montreux Golf & Country Club that have allowed past champions to do well this year.
“Like, this putt is just historically fast or this putt don't go away from Mount Rose quite as much or this putt does go away from Mount Rose harder than you think,” he said. “And just trusting yardages. Trusting you're hitting 7-iron downhill on No. 9 - or 18 now rather -- from 230. That's the actual yardage.”
After enjoying full status on the PGA TOUR from 2005-10, Will MacKenzie is on the outside looking in this year, making just his eighth TOUR start this week at the John Deere Classic.
But the way he’s playing now could change things.
MacKenzie, a two-time winner on TOUR, is 4 under for his round Saturday after bogeying the par-4 15th. That has him T15 on the leaderboard, rare air for the 36-year-old this season. In his previous seven TOUR starts his best finish is T50 at Puerto Rico in March.
MacKenzie has made six Nationwide Tour starts this year with only one finish higher than 35th, a T4 at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
A big week at John Deere would not only help him get closer to full status for next year, it would be good momentum going into the Viking Classic – which MacKenzie won in 2008.
The leaders are about an hour away from starting their third rounds at the John Deere Classic. They could find a more difficult TPC Deere Run for moving day.
Among the early players there are no eye-popping scores or surges up the leaderboard. Michael Putnam and John Merrick each shot 67, while Will MacKenzie has a 5-under round going with five holes remaining. He’s up to 10 under for the tournament. Good stuff but nothing quite like Chez Reavie’s Friday 62 or the several 64s shot so far this week.
Asked yesterday to assess the greens, Steve Marino said they are a touch firmer and, consequently, more difficult. Saturday’s dry conditions with temperatures in the upper 80s should continue that trend.
“It’s making it play just a little bit more difficult,” Marino said Friday after his 66. “I mean, they’re not super-firm by any stretch, but you know, I’ve definitely played softer greens. I think they’re about perfect for scoring.”
Whether that’s a super-low score like we’ve seen in previous years of the John Deere Classic remains to be seen.
James Driscoll's chance at the elusive 59 evaporated Thursday when he made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8 at Trump International in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
But Driscoll still owns the lead at the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com after shooting a 9-under 63. Will MacKenzie is two strokes behind at 7 under.
Prior to those dropped shots, Driscoll had been flawless.
Starting his round on the back nine, he made six birdies, including four straight as he made the turn, to shoot 30.
The hot streak continued on the front nine as Driscoll birdied the first three holes to make it seven birdies in a row. An eagle at the par-5 fifth hole really set the 59 watch in full swing.
At that point, he was 11 under with four holes to play at the par-72 course. He needed two more birdies in that span … but it was not meant to be.
Still, his streak of seven consecutive birdies is the second-longest this year. Chris Stroud put together eight straight birdies in the second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya-Cancun.
Driscoll's round of 63 is one stroke off his career low shot in the fourth round of the 2009 Valero Texas Open. He finished second there, which is the best performance of his PGA TOUR career. The 63 marks just the second time Driscoll has broken 70 in nine rounds this season.
On the PGA TOUR this season, it’s the 14th round of 63 or better. In terms of relation to par, Driscoll’s 9 under total has been matched or exceeded just eight other times this year ( see chart below).
LOWEST ROUNDS IN 2011 (IN RELATION TO PAR)
|Relative to Par||Score||Player||Tournament||Round|
|11 under||62||Graeme McDowell||Hyundai Tournament of Champions||4|
|10 under||62||Bill Haas||Bob Hope Classic||4|
|10 under||62||Brian Gay||Bob Hope Classic||5|
|10 under||63||Robert Garrigus||Hyundai Tournament of Champions||2|
|9 under||64||Ernie Els||Hyundai Tournament of Champions||2|
|9 under||62||Rickie Fowler||Waste Management Phoenix Open||2|
|9 under||63||Derek Lamely||Bob Hope Classic||1|
|9 under||63||Nick Watney||Farmers Insurance Open||4|
|9 under||63||James Driscoll||Puerto Rico Open||1|
Following a fourth-round 66, Will MacKenzie was in position to make a run at regaining his PGA TOUR card for next season. But a pair of 71s to close left MacKenzie four strokes short of finishing in the top 25 on Monday. Making matters worse for MacKenzie is the fact that he finished 152nd on the money list this season.
In other words, MacKenzie will be spending 2011 on the Nationwide Tour.
While MacKenzie put together seven birdies and just one bogey in that fourth round, he was never able to get anything going the last two days, especially Monday when he managed just two birdies, one bogey and 15 pars on what was a difficult day of scoring because of chilly temperatures and high winds.
MacKenzie was hardly the only player to suffer that fate, however. Jeff Quinney, who nearly won THE PLAYERS Championship two years ago, closed with a 74 to tumble out of the top 25 as well after beginning the day in a tie for 16th.
Quinney was ultimately done in by bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 on the Crooked Cat Course as he finished the round 2 over and at 8 under for the week -- two strokes off the number he needed to be at.
Will MacKenzie began the day struggling to find his game on the range. He ended it with an early share at TPC Summerlin.
The North Carolinian is trying to avoid q-school after entering the week ranked 146th on the money list. MacKenzie's exemption for winning the 2008 Viking Classic runs out at the end of this year, and he knows he is under the gun.
"A tie for 40th don't do anything for me at all. I got to have a big finish," MacKenzie said. "I got to have two good finishes or either one fantastic one.
"So, you know, I'm going to try to just make as many birdies as possible. If I have to go to q-school, I'll go to q-school."
Win or lose, MacKenzie appears to be in good shape to at least finish in the 126 to 150 category, which would ensure around 20 starts in 2011. And he's determined to avoid another slow start like he had this year, when he put himself in an early hole by missing his first two cuts.
"No matter what, next year I'm going to start off stronger," MacKenzie said. "I'm getting tired of coming down to the wire and having to play real well."
The good news: MacKenzie has usually played well in the fall. He tied for sixth last week -- his first top-10 of the year -- and his 64 on Thursday likely means he will avoid missing the cut, something that happened here last year. The bad news: He opened with a 65 at TPC Summerlin in 2008, then shot 72-72 and was cut after 54 holes.
"Guys are going to shoot so low out here. Any day you can get it going, keep it going out here, you need to because you're going to have a day you're going to shoot even to 2 under, even if you're playing well," MacKenzie said.
In the first round of the 2010 Frys.com Open, Will MacKenzie makes at the par-5 12th hole for a birdie.