Brendan Steele knows something about winning tournaments on the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, but when he returned to the course to finish his first round at the Valero Texas Open on Friday he spied something he’d never seen before.
Steele, the 2011 Valero Texas Open champion, kept his foot on the accelerator even when things were their toughest Friday and forged a three-shot lead at 10-under-par after a 2-under-par 70 during the second round, played under sunny skies and warm, windless conditions.
Stuart Appleby (67-70), Scott Langley (69-68) and Charley Hoffman (66-71) were at 7-under 137, three shots off the pace as set by Steele.
Seven players, led by Ricky Barnes (68-70), Patrick Reed (65-73) and Ryan Palmer (68-70), are tied are tied for fifth at 6-under 138.
Steele marked his ball on the fifth green and slept on a 17-foot putt that, if made, would have given him nine birdies in 14 holes in the first round. But the putt was almost “slippery kind of nasty,” he said, and all but impossible, and he proved it by knocking his first effort six feet past the hole.
He then made a knee-knocking come-backer to save par. As Steele was walking off the putting surface he saw a red dot on a little shelf at the back of the green, a mark that signified where the hole would be located for the second round, set to start almost immediately after the completion of the first 18 holes that started on Thursday.
“That was our first hole and the dot kind of freaked me out, to be honest, because I didn’t know that you could put a pin back there,” Steele said. “The two pins on the fifth hole have been outrageous so far. It ended up kind of affecting my wedge shot and I made bogey when we came back through there a few hours later. There were a couple of hole placements that I hadn’t seen and I wasn’t really comfortable with.”
If the Oaks Course played too easy in the first round, Tour officials made sure the 7,435-yard layout would take its pound of flesh on Friday.
“They toughened it up a little bit today,” Steele said of the course setup on Friday. “Normally the course is so firm and so fast and the scoring average is really high, they have to use kind of easy pins to keep the field moving forward. With it being a little bit softer, it’s been a little bit more getable. They made the adjustment in the second round.”
Steele was one of 72 golfers that had to return to the course early Friday morning to complete their first rounds after the tournament was delayed by rain on Thursday. He finished at 8-under 64, then had just enough time to change shirts and grab some breakfast before beginning his second round.
Things didn’t go quite as well for Steele in round two, as he balanced six birdies with two bogeys and a double bogey on the par-4 15th hole. The latter began with a drive into the native area to the left of the fairway, continued with a third shot that found the intermediate rough to the left of the green and ended with two putts from seven feet.
Steele hit nine of 14 fairways and 12 of the 18 greens on Friday and his average putt was 33 feet from the hole, five feet more than in his stellar opening round. He had 11 one-putts in the second round, one less that on Thursday.
Hoffman, who was the leader in the clubhouse overnight when about half the field didn’t complete their rounds, blasted out of the sand 71 feet from the hole for an eagle on the 602-yard par-5 second hole for the highlight of his round on Friday.
Appleby began his day on the 10th hole, which he triple bogeyed with four putts from 10 feet. After that debacle, he managed seven birdies and two bogeys in what has to be called a rollercoaster effort at best.
“I was swatting at it – a golf ball just got in the way,” Appleby said. “I was doing like when Seve (Ballesteros) had a four putt many, many years ago, and I asked him, ‘how did you have a four putt?’ He said, ‘I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.’ I’m a good putter when I focus well. When you don’t focus you don’t putt. I’m hitting it well enough.”
Defending champion Jimmy Walker, who resides in Boerne, had a week to forget, missing the cut after struggling to 5-over 77 on Friday to finish at 8-over 152, tied for 142nd in the tournament that began with 156 players.
Other notable players that were cut after 36 holes included Brooks Koepka and Ernie Els (both at 1-over 145), Hunter Mahan, Geoff Ogilvy and Bryson DeChambeau (all at 2-over 146), former Valero Texas Open winner Ben Curtis (3-over 147), Phil Mickelson (4-over 148) and amateur Brad Dalke (14-over 158), a freshman at the University of Oklahoma who won the 2015 Junior PGA Championship last August to earn his way into the tournament.
Scott Stallings recorded the shot of the tournament when he aced the 200-yard par-3 13th hole. Stallings needed every shot he found, making the cut at even-par 144. The best score of the second round was fashioned by Carlos Ortiz and Sung Kang; Ortiz still missed the cut at 1-over.
Top Image: Brendan Steele tees off on the fourth hole during the second round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course on April 22, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images)