Brasil Champions delayed with Berger, Curl on top
March 13, 2014
By Joe Chemycz, PGATOUR.COM
- Michael Connell could take the lead from the clubhouse co-leaders with a birdie on his last hole. (Halleran/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Michael Connell was less than 10 minutes from finishing one the best rounds of his career when lightning storms rolled over the Sao Paulo Golf Club for the third straight day and halted play with half the field left to finish the opening round of the Brasil Champions presented by HSBC.
Connell was 7-under and bogey-free for 17 holes and had just plopped his tee shot at the par-3, 9th hole to about 15-20 feet when horns sounded at 3:30 p.m. and sent golfers scurrying for cover.
“The frustrating thing isn’t the fact that we didn’t get to finish,” said Connell, who would record the second-best score of his career and match the official course record if he cans the birdie putt for a 63. “It’s the fact that we have to sit here and waste the energy for the rest of the day. We know we have to play more golf.”
No rain fell but the threat remained and officials called play for the day at 5:15 pm and announced that the round will resume at 7:00 a.m. Friday.
When play continues, Connell, who lives in Austin, Texas, will be staring at a birdie putt to take over the first-round lead from clubhouse dwellers Daniel Berger and Jeff Curl, who knocked a pair of 7-under 64s in the morning session.
Tom Gills, Tom Hoge and Australian Ash Hall all posted 6-under 65s and currently share fourth place with Aussie Adam Crawford, who has to two holes to go.
Casey Wittenberg, Brad Schneider and Sung Kang are in at 66 while Byron Smith and Cliff Kresge are each 5-under with two holes to play.
Berger, who left Florida State after two standout seasons, jumped into contention early with three birdies and an eagle in his first five holes. The eagle at the 550-yard, 13th was the highlight.
“I probably made the longest putt I’ve ever made in my life,” said the 20-year old from Jupiter, Fla. “I hit a 3-wood in there to about 80 feet and just dropped it in. When I’m sitting over it I’m thinking I’d be happy with a two-putt birdie. It was a good putt. Die speed and dead center.”
From there Berger did his best to avoid the rough that has grown and thickened because of consistent rains the past couple of weeks. Fairways are the key to success this week and officials started the round with lift, clean and place conditions in effect, putting a greater emphasis on accuracy.
“There are a few holes you don’t think about hitting driver on,” said Curl. “That rough is no good right now and it’s getting worse. You don’t want to be in it.”
First-Round Notes & Quotes:
• Thursday weather: Partly cloudy. Winds NE 6-12 mph and turning S 10-20 mph at 3 pm. Daytime high of 86. Play suspended due to dangerous conditions/thunderstorms at 3:30 p.m.
• The opening round was played under lift, clean and place conditions.
• The Sao Paulo Golf Club course record is 63 set by tournament winner Benjamin Alvarado in the second round last year and matched by Wes Roach in Round 3. The unofficial record of 12-under 59 was established earlier this week by Derek Fathauer in Tuesday’s practice round.
• The winning score in last year’s inaugural event was 19-under 265 by Benjamin Alvarado.
• Adam Hadwin, winner of last week’s Chile Classic and No. 1 on the money list, is 3-under through 14 holes.
• Alex Cejka, winner of the season-opening Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship and No. 2 on the money list, is 4-under through 13 holes.
• Last year 74 players made the 36-hole cut which was 2-under-par 140.
• Hunter Haas’ 6-under 29 on the front nine is a new tournament record. Carlos Franco (R1) and Michael Putnam (R4) both posted 30s a year ago. Rookie Mark Hubbard later matched Haas’ front-side 29.
• Tom Gillis’ five consecutive birdies (Nos. 10-14) tied the tournament record set by Aaron Goldberg (Nos. 2-6) last year.
• Connell was in the lead group off the 10th tee in the afternoon and had just hit his tee shot on the par-3, 9th hole when play was halted.
• He has made 76 career starts on the PGA TOUR where he was a member in 2006, 2010 and 2011. His best finish came at The Honda Classic in 2010 when he finished T6.
• Connell’s career-low round is a 10-under 61 in the third round of the 2013 Albertsons Boise Open. His low round on the PGA TOUR is a 64 in the second round of the 2011 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
• Connell has held/shared a lead only once in his combined PGA TOUR/Web.com Tour. He shot a 5-under 65 and shared the first-round lead with Nathan Green at The Honda Classic in 2010.
• Connell has made 25 cuts in 52 career starts on the Web.com Tour. His best finish is a T3 at the 2013 BMW Charity Pro-Am.
• Jeff Curl’s 64 today is one off of his career lows, both of which came in the state of Pennsylvania. Curl fired a 63 (-7) in the second round of the 2008 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic and 63 (-8) in the fourth round of the Mylan Classic.
• Curl has held/shared the lead only once before in his 78 career starts on the Web.com Tour. Curl was at 9-under and part of a four-way tie with Jeff Gallagher, Scott Gardiner and Bradley Iles at the halfway point of the 2009 Rex Hospital Open.
• Curl’s career-best finish on Tour is a T2 at the 2010 Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open.
• Daniel Berger is making his fifth career start on the Web.com Tour. He is a member of the Tour this year and began the season with a T29 finish at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship and then finished T12 at the Chile Classic last week in Santiago. He comes into the week No. 27 on the money list.
• Berger has not made a start on the PGA TOUR.
• Berger will turn 21 on April 7.
• Berger’s birdie-eagle-birdie stretch on Nos. 12-14 today matched the best birdie-eagle streak in the tournament’s brief two-year history.
SUNG KANG’S JOURNEY TO SAO PAULO
• Korea’s Sung Kang’s 5-under 67 bordered on the remarkable given his days leading up to the start.
Kang was the fourth alternate on Monday and given the fact that he was the second alternate at last week’s Chile Classic and didn’t get it, he figured odds were about the same for him this week.
“It was about 1 o’clock Los Angeles times and I was on the 16th hole at the Navy Golf Course in Cypress (Calif.) when I got the call,” said Kang. “I thought there was no way I’d get in.”
Kang left the course where Tiger Woods used to practice, headed home, packed and was on a plane just before midnight.
“That’s like 4 am Brazil time,” he said. “I got here yesterday around 3 and was stuck in traffic for four hours trying to go the 30 miles from the airport to the hotel.”
With a lot of help, Kang arrived at his hotel around 8 pm Wednesday. He ordered room service and hit the hay at 10.
“My body clock was way off and I was awake at 12,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep so I stay up and just came in here with the first bus at 4:40 (a.m.). I didn’t know about getting a caddie. I had to register and find a yardage book. I wound up practicing a little more than usual.”
Tee time was 7:40 a.m. and the practice paid off thanks to a conservative approach.
“I just tried to play it safe. I made no bogeys so I definitely like this course,” he said. “But I’m tired. I think I’m going to get some sleep.”
• Blayne Barber shot a 4-under 67 but was disqualified for not signing his scorecard. Barber had initialed a change to a score on his card but did not sign the card before leaving the scoring area.