By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Roberto Castro had a solid, if not spectacular rookie season in 2012.
He advanced to the second round of the FedExCup Playoffs and earned more than $755,000, which is hardly chump change. Along the way, the Georgia Tech grad kept his nose down and his eyes open, and the lessons he learned could pay dividends this week at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
Castro opened with a career-low 63 that gave him a share of the first-round lead. He followed that up with a 67 at the Palmer Private course on a sun-drenched Friday to stay on top of the leaderboard, tied with PGA TOUR rookie James Hahn, one stroke ahead of the pack, despite a pair of bogeys in his last three holes.
"I played well all day," Castro said. "Some nice up-and-downs on the par fives for birdies, a couple slipped away there at the end, but yesterday I made a 50-footer on the last on a good putt. Today I felt like I hit a good putt and three-putted. So that's stuff over 72 holes that's going to even out."
Castro made the cut in six of his first seven starts a year ago, including a tie for 42nd here in the desert. The opportunity to play four rounds with regularity so early in his career didn't just help him get comfortable on the courses, Castro also took the opportunity to watch how his veteran playing partners handled themselves.
"When you play with guys when they're not leading and see what their habits are, you kind of see how that carries over when they are in contention, so I definitely learned that," Castro said. "And then the game plan this year, just try to have the same attitude I had last year, which was very grateful to be out here and keep a good perspective."
So which players impressed Castro the most? Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson -- players who have a similar studied approach to the game. Interestingly, Johnson sits two strokes behind Castro through 36 holes this week.
"I played with Stricker in Houston on Sunday and we were in 35th place to start the day," Castro recalled. "And he made a couple early bogeys and he made a couple late birdies and he was in 35th place probably on the 18th tee. And he was just grinding on that tee shot.
"And for a guy who finishes like third every week it was a meaningless week for him basically. But you could just see that he does the same thing every time. ... So I think about that all the time."
Not that anything he saw was particularly eye-opening. "It was just reinforcing that you are kind of on the right path, this is what these guys do, and they win tournaments," Castro said. "So keep on keeping on."
The former Tech All-American, who had two uncles and two younger brothers who played college golf, has also benefitted from picking the brain of his aunt, Jenny Lidback, who played the LPGA TOUR for 15 years. He used to spend spring break at her home in Scottsdale and they played together as often as their schedules permitted.
"Really for all through junior golf and a lot of college golf, we would talk on the phone a good bit," Castro said. "And she really, I think you heard Keegan say that about his aunt too, trying to win a tournament's the same no matter what TOUR you're on. And college golf especially, great experiences there. So she's had a big role in my golf."