By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
DAVIDSON, N.C. – The 18th hole at River Run Country Club may be one of the best risk/reward holes on the Web.com Tour – a reachable par-5 over water, with a three-tiered green that rises from front to back.
On Friday, competitors faced the daunting challenge of trying to hit that front tier. On firm greens, it wasn’t easy.
“We were laughing,” said Camilo Benedetti, who birdied the hole on the way to a 5-under-par 67. “You have a 4-iron or 5-iron, but it’s tough to get there.”
Said Ben Kohles: “Unless you land it just short or on the fringe and it kind of pops up, you have no real chance of stopping it on that level.”
More than a few players watched their approach hit the middle tier, then roll up a 4-foot incline to the back of the green. That left a slick putt that had to travel down two inclines to reach the hole.
“I wasn’t sure you could two-putt from the top tier,” Peter Malnati said, “but you can.”
Ben Kohles took the difficult route to a two-putt, leaving his first attempt from the back of the green on the middle tier. But he found the line on his subsequent 40-foot downhiller, his ball rattling the cup before dropping.
The hole still managed to record three eagles in addition to its 51 birdies. Perhaps the best was Hudson Swafford’s bending 5-iron that came to rest 10 feet from the flagstick.
“Probably the best swing I put on it all day,” he said. “A little draw around the tree, and it was perfect.”
TRUSTED HAND: John Peterson, three shots back Friday after tying for fifth in Fort Wayne, is enlisting some veteran help for the Finals – caddie Scott Gneiser, who has spent the past decade on David Toms’ bag.
“I’m not going to be outcaddied,” Peterson said after Friday’s 68. “It’s nice to have a guy who’s a pro like that. He knows everything and whatever he tells you is going to be right on. I’m not doubting myself out there and I’m not doubting him.”
Toms just missed the FedExCup playoffs, but secured his PGA TOUR card for next year by finishing among the top 125 in earnings. Peterson, who was between caddies, reached out to his fellow LSU alum for assistance.
Peterson had been employing a friend for most of the year, but decided late in the season he needed more experience. “I got an older guy for Springfield and Omaha,” he said, “and I played well in both of those.”
Peterson will have Gneiser for the rest of the Finals – and if he has any influence, perhaps longer.
“I want to make it real hard on him [for] next year, choosing a bag,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll see. I hope I can.”
BIG TURNAROUND: Ricky Barnes opened his Chiquita Classic with two bogeys in Thursday’s first five holes, still floundering at 2-over par as he made the turn.
The former U.S. Amateur champion has gone bogey-free since then, though, playing his next 27 holes in 6-under to move within three shots of the pacesetter Greg Owen.
“Holes aren’t easy out of the rough around here,” said Barnes. “Anytime I can get around with no bogeys, I’m playing pretty good.”
The California native could use a boost after missing the cut last week, wiping out the promise of an opening 68 with a second-day 76.
It’s that kind of inconsistency that has plagued Barnes all season. Though he ranked fourth on the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation, he missed 15 of 26 cuts. Four MCs came after an opening round of 70 or better.
“It’s just consistency and making a few putts,” he said. “That’s the name of this game – everyone hits it pretty good, but you’ve got to get the ball in the hole.
“I feel like I’m playing good; I just need to start scoring better. I’ll take two more 4-unders [this week] and see where I stand.”
BACK IN FORM: After two unremarkable weeks coming off his pre-Finals break, Ben Martin is looking more like the guy who won twice on the Web.com Tour and finished second on the money list behind Michael Putnam.
The Clemson grad enters the weekend four shots off the lead after a 71-69 start.
When Martin captured the Mylan Classic, it completed a six-event run in which he went a combined 96-under par. He celebrated with two weeks off, coming back to tie for 40th in the regular-season finale and 32nd last week.
“In Omaha, I was pressing pretty hard to try and catch Michael. I probably tried too hard,” Martin said. “That was probably my worst week of the year. So last week I kind of regrouped and relaxed a little bit.”
Martin still has some ground to make up in the race for entry priority, but knows one good week in the Finals can turn fortunes around.
“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to get back to No.2,” he said, “but I feel like I can come out with a good number if I finish [with] top 10s.”