NICHOLASVILLE, Kentucky - He likes the name, even though he wasn't the one who came up with it.
And Troy Merritt sure likes the Mollie putter made by Yes! he put back in his bag last week - particularly after making eight birdies and an eagle in shooting 62 on Thursday at the Barbasol Championship.
"I did not name the putter, but she is called Mollie," Merritt said with a grin. "You should treat her with respect. … It's a very appropriate name. It was my grandparents' first dog when I was a kid, so Mollie is a good name for it."
The round of 10 under, which was one shy of his career low, gave Merritt a three-stroke lead over Andres Romero, Billy Horschel and Joel Dahmen. He hit 16 of 18 greens, had just 24 putts thanks to Mollie and ended the day ranked first in Strokes Gained: Total.
Merritt said he'd been using his Mollie for the better part of the last three years. But he accidently left it at home when he went to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am earlier this year, and the back-up produced a tie for eighth.
"So I kept that putter in the bag until last week," Merritt said.
When putts don't fall, though, it's time for a change - and that's what had been happening this summer. As the season winds down, the pressure mounts, too. Merritt ranks 131st in the FedExCup with only the top 125 locking up FedExCup Playoff spots and their playing privileges for 2018-19.
"I was kind of losing my comfort with it," Merritt said. "So I just went back to Old Trusty. It took maybe five, ten minutes to get the hang of looking at it on the ground again, and I rolled it well last week I rolled it well today."
Merritt pulled away from the pack with a torrid stretch as he closed out the front nine, his second of the day. He made a 34-footer for eagle at the sixth hole that gave him the lead, then followed with birdie putts of 10 and 3 feet on the next two holes.
"It was kind of fun to see that (eagle) go in," Merritt said.
With a weather forecast that calls for rain each of the next three days, Merritt acknowledged it was important to get a good round under his belt. Plus, the FedExCup points are looming large with just five weeks left before the FedExCup Playoffs begin.
"You have to take advantage of this one," Merritt said. "We play for fewer points this week. Guys are really battling to keep their cards. It's hard to make a move up the points list this week. You've got to do your best to get a Top 5, Top 10 finish just to try to advance up on that pints list.
"To do that, you have to play well. You have to set that mindset: I've got to go out there and contend to win this thing, and hopefully the shots and the putts fall."
Eleven years ago, Andres Romero nearly won The Open Championship at Carnoustie. He fired a final-round 67 that included a phenomenal 10 birdies on a golf course generally regarded as the most difficult in The Open rota and held a two-shot lead when he teed off on the 17th hole. But Romero’s hopes were dashed when his second shot careened off the wall of the Barry Burn and landed out of bounds on the way to a double bogey. After a bogey on the 18th hole, the young Argentine finished one shot out of the playoff that Padraig Harrington won.
But that was then, and this is now. While The Open returns to Carnoustie, Romero is playing at the Barbasol Championship, hoping to get his TOUR card back. And he’s off to a great start with a 65 that left him three shots off the lead held by Troy Merritt. “I'm really happy to be here and to have a good round here,” Romero said through an interpreter. “Of course I'm thinking about The Open, and especially because it's in Carnoustie. Eleven years ago was such an incredible time for me. It was a tournament that pushed me over to the PGA TOUR, so it's really huge for me. But happy to be here and enjoying it.”
Brittany Lincicome said she was actually calmer than she thought she would be -- particularly after that first drive found the fairway on Thursday. The sixth woman to ever play on the PGA TOUR went on to shoot a 78 that would have been better had it not been for miscues on a pair of par 3s. One shot found the water and led to a double bogey while another settled into an impossible lie over the green en route to a triple. The eight-time LPGA champ played her other 16 holes in 1 over, though, and pronounced herself “pretty happy with my game overall.” As for having fun? Well, the woman with the ever-present smile said she “nailed that part pretty well.” The gallery was clearly supportive, as were her playing partners, Conrad Shindler and Sam Ryder, who “really made me feel at home,” Lincicome said. While her hopes of becoming the first woman to make the cut in a TOUR event since Babe Didrickson Zaharias at the 1945 Phoenix Open are likely out the window, Lincicome is looking forward to Friday’s second round. “I heard there is some rain coming through which is a little bit of a depressing thing,” she said. “I'll probably still be nervous. Obviously nowhere near making the cut, but still just being inside the ropes with the guys is a cool feeling, a different feeling. I'm sure I'll be super nervous as well.”
Jay Don Blake was flying back to St. George, Utah, on Monday after playing in the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship when he got a phone call from PGA TOUR headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Turns out, he had made the field for the Barbasol Championship, which would be his first TOUR event since the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion – and more importantly, the 499th of his career. So he and his wife, Marcie, who has caddied for the 59-year-old for the past decade, had to decide whether to go to Kentucky or try to qualify for the Senior British Open. “I said, you know what? I’m trying to get 500 PGA TOUR starts,” Blake said. “So we decided to come here and have some fun and give it a try.” Although he admitted he didn’t know a lot of the players in the field, Blake, who shot a solid 70, got to play with someone from his home town, Zac Blair, on Thursday. He also saw Aaron Baddeley on the range and went over to hit balls next to him earlier in the week. “I remember him from when he just kind of started coming out, and he was a young superstar kid and I really liked him. … It’s nice to come out here and see the guys again.”
Billy Horschel was heading to the first tee on Thursday when he saw John Peterson talking with several reporters. “How’s retirement?” Horschel yelled. Peterson just grinned. He had thought his season was over until the Web.com Tour Finals after falling .586 of a point shy of satisfying his medical exemption at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier to earn conditional status for the rest of the season. And he said if he didn’t get his card at the Finals he was giving up the game. But Peterson got into the Barbasol Championship as an alternate and opened with a 67 that left him tied for 13th. It was an abrupt change of plans for Peterson who was on Figure Eight Island outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, on a family vacation when he found out he had made the field. “I brought my swimsuit and my sunscreen and a couple of cases of beer,” Peterson said. He didn’t have his golf clothes or his clubs, though. So Peterson’s mother got his bag and flew from Fort Worth to Kentucky. So far, it’s been worth the trip. “For some reason I play good when I have to and I’ve done that throughout my life.” And win on Sunday would give Peterson his TOUR card back and a two-year exemption and a top-10 would get him in the RBC Canadian Open to continue the quest.
QUOTABLESShe was just a great sport out there. She had a smile on her face all day. I know she's a little disappointed. She had a couple big numbers, but if she rolled a couple putts in she could have been right around par or couple under.Age is a number obviously. I keep thinking I’m going to be 60 here in a couple of months and that number seems a little old but then I don’t feel old. I don’t feel it. And the golf ball doesn’t know how old I am.It's building. It can go higher, that's for sure. But it feels pretty good. I've felt like since April I've played some pretty good golf.
Lowest Round: Troy Merritt shot a 10-under 62.
Longest Drive: Tom Lovelady hit a drive of 373 yards on the 13th hole.
Hardest hole: The par 3 seventh hole played to an average of 3.083 with 10 birdies, 89 pars, 28 bogeys, 2 double bogeys and 3 “others.”
Easiest hole: The par-5 second hole played to an average of 4.364 with 6 eagles, 78 birdies, 43 pars, 4 bogeys and 1 double bogey.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Brittany Lincicome's 30-foot birdie putt for Shot of the Day