Garnett leads Cox Classic by one

August 23, 2013

By Joe Chemycz, Tour staff

OMAHA, Neb. – Missouri native Brice Garnett admits he’s pretty relaxed these days. The 29-year old from Gallatin, Mo. has already assured himself of a PGA TOUR card for next year and is playing with ‘house money’ at this point.

Garnett blitzed the Champions Run course for an 8-under 63 that put him at 12-under par and in sole possession of the 36-hole lead at the Cox Classic, the final full-field event on the Tour schedule.

“It was a fast finish,” said Garnett, who closed with five birdies in his last six holes. “I hit a couple close coming in and had a couple of two-putt birdies. You just have to stay on the gas pedal out here and take advantage of those holes.”

Garnett posted his score early on a windy day and his lead held up as several challenged but none got closer than a stroke. Wes Roach (66), Len Mattiace (64), Matt Bettencourt (64), John Peterson (65), Bronson La’Cassie (65) and first-round co-leader Andrew Loupe (68) are knotted at 11-under 131.

Lefty Nick O’Hern (67), Russell Knox (65) and Manuel Villegas (63) are tied for eighth place and just two off the pace heading into the weekend.

Come Sunday afternoon, the 25 leading money winners on Tour will earn TOUR cards for next year. Garnett, at No. 14, already knows he’s bound for the big show.

“This is the first week for me to be in this position. It’s just fun to play,” he said. “I know a lot of guys are feeling a lot of pressure. I’m just trying to enjoy the week and know that at the end of the week my dream will come true.”

Garnett has hit plenty of fairways and enough greens to put him atop the leaderboard for the first time in his Tour career.

“Before last week I grinded really hard to get into this position,” said Garnett. “It’s exciting now. It’s easier to play good when you are freewheeling things.”

Garnett took last week off after a five-week stretch produced four made cuts and three top-21 finishes. The effort kept him entrenched in the top-25 and his T7 at the Price Cutter Charity Championship moved him up four spots to No 13 at the time, and gave him the freedom to exhale while skipping the News Sentinel Open in Knoxville, Tenn.

“I haven’t practiced my short game a lot,” he said after matching his career-low round. “I was trying to react around the greens. I’m going with more of what the feel should be. I’m a feel player and I was getting too analytical around the greens. My short game was sharp today.”

Second-Round Notes:

-- Friday weather – Partly cloudy. Wind SSE 6-12 mph with gusts to 20 mph. High of 89.

-- Saturday’s play will be in threesomes off the 1st and 10th tees starting at 9:00 a.m. with an expected finish time of 4:00 p.m. CT.

-- Brett Wetterich was disqualified prior to the start of the second round for signing an incorrect scorecard in round one.

-- Matt Hill withdrew prior to the start of the second round.

-- Rafael Echenique withdrew during the second round because of a rib injury.

-- Spencer Levin withdrew during the second round due to illness.

-- A total of 65 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 4-under 138. The cut was 6-under par each of the past three years.

-- Brice Garnett’s 8-under 63 matched his career-low on the Tour. Garnett also posted a 63 in the third round of the Chitimacha Louisiana Open earlier this year.

-- This is the first time in Garnett’s Tour career that he has held or shared the lead after any single round. His previous best position after 36 holes was a T2 at the Chile Classic earlier this year, where he wound up after 72 holes (his career best finish).

-- Garnett entered the week No. 14 on the money list. He has made nine cuts in 18 starts this year with seven top-25 finishes. Garnett has four top-10s this year – T2 Chile Classic, 3rd WNB Golf Classic, T6 Brasil Classic, T7 Price Cutter Charity Championship.

-- Garnett leads the field in birdies with 16 thus far. Brad Elder is next with 14.

-- Wes Roach, a second-year pro from Knoxville, Tenn., has three top-10 finishes on his resume for this season, including a T2 at the Mexico Championship and a solo 5th at the Brasil Classic. The 2011 Duke University grad entered the week No. 26 on the money list. He finished No. 91 on the money list in his rookie season last year.

-- Len Mattiace’s 7-under 64 matched his second-lowest score in his Tour career. Mattiace, 45, posted an 8-under 63 in the second round of the Utah Championship last month. His only other 64 was a 6-under 64 in the third round of 2009 Panama Claro Championship.

-- Mattiace has made the cut in eight of 19 starts this year and has a pair of top-10 finishes. He was T4 at the Panama Claro Championship to open the year and also finished T7 at the Rex Hospital Open. He started the week No. 80 on the money list.

-- Leading money-winner Michael Putnam (67-66—133) is tied for 11th heading into the weekend and still in pursuit of the No. 1 spot at the end of the week. Putnam, a two-time winner this year, owned a $37,735 advantage over No. 2 Ben Martin when the week began.

Martin birdied his final two holes late in the afternoon for a 2-under 69 that just squeezed him into the weekend, thus leaving some drama for the top spot.

Martin, also a two-time champion in 2013, three-putted the 7th hole from 15 feet for bogey and dropped to 2-under par. He rolled in a 15-footer for birdie at No. 8 and then a 10-footer at No. 9 to make the cut on the number.

Had Martin missed the cut, Putnam would have been assured of the No. 1 spot on the money list and the benefits of full exemption on the PGA TOUR in 2014. Instead, Putnam must now maintain his monetary edge over the final 36 holes.

-- Those in the top-25 who did not play this week:
#7 Mark Anderson
#8 Alex Aragon
#9 Tim Wilkinson
#15 Benjamin Alvarado
#18 Brendon Todd

-- Russell Knox (67-65—132) is the only player in the field without a bogey for the first 36 holes. Knox has birdied nine different holes thus far – his only repeat birdie has been at the par-4, 13th.

-- Manuel Villegas, younger brother of PGA TOUR champion Camilo, posted a career-best 8-under 63 in the second round to vault into contention. The former Florida Gator is making his 28th career start on Tour and his previous low was a 6-under 65 in the second round of this event in 2010. Villegas, 28, entered the week No. 128 on the money list after making three cuts in four starts this year. His best week in 2013 is a T7 at the Colombia Championship. His career-best finish is a T6 at the 2010 Moonah Classic in Australia.

-- The 315-yard, 9th hole continues to be an easy mark for the field. The driveable par-4, which has been the easiest par-4 on the Tour for the past seven consecutive years, is currently yielding a scoring average of 3.571. There have been a total of 10 eagles through the first two rounds. There were a total of 18 eagles on that hole in both 2007 and 2008, the most in any single year.

-- Players with eagle-2s at the par-4, 9th hole:
R1 – Andrew Loupe, Hudson Swafford, Kent Jones, Todd Demsey
R2 –Wes Roach, Manuel Villegas, Randall Hutchison, Ryan Spears, Jamie Lovemark, Derek Fathauer