Cameron Young and Sahith Theegala are arguably No. 1 and No. 2 in the Rookie of the Year race on the PGA Tour this season.
This weekend’s Rocket Mortgage Classic 2022 seems to play a big part in that determination.
Young shot a 9-under 63 Friday morning, tying the tournament course record, and left the ninth green (his 18th hole) with a one-stroke lead at 10-under 134.
The man behind him, Theegala, recorded a 5-under 67 and finds himself a stroke back at 9-under 135.
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“The No. 13 hole is really nice and sometimes it’s hard to follow that, but I did it with a birdie on 14 and 16, so kind of around then,” Young said. about the moment he knew Friday had the chance to be special. “I knew it was going to be playable this morning, we played in a good wind yesterday, but today it was calm.
“So I would say midway through my front nine, the back (course) things started to feel a bit easier.”
After a birdie on the No. 12, Young found the middle of the fairway on the par-4 No. 13. With 136 yards remaining, he grabbed the pitching wedge and said he was aiming for four paces long, about 140 meters and a few steps to the left. .
“So I just missed it,” he said with a smile, “and it turned out he flew straight into the hole.”
From there Young continued to put himself in good positions and when he left the course he led the field in strokes gained off the tee by almost four strokes after finding 22 of 28 fairways in two days. .
Young said driving is his greatest strength — his stats show him second on the tour in hits off the tee this season.
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He’s put it all together so far, ranking in the top 20 in strokes won on the green and converting 9 of 10 scramble attempts when he misses the green over 36 holes.
“I think yesterday I drove well, I just didn’t win much, but I wasn’t as well positioned around the green,” he said. “The ones I missed today, I was really in a bunch of places that were very doable.
“So I think that’s kind of a place where the stats don’t tell the whole story.”
All did not go perfectly for the Open Championship runner-up in St. Andrews two weeks ago.
His drive on No. 2 went left, hit a cart path and rolled about 408 yards. He took a relief and dropped behind the cart path, through the trees and he bounded across the green just off the fringe in the first cut.
He was able to get up and down, hitting a putt just inside seven feet that “really kept the round going”.
He snatched birdies on four of the next five holes, and after missing a chance for another putt on the No. 8, he needed par for the course record.
His tee shot on the 200-yard par 3 ninth landed 35 feet, his first putt left him still seven feet, but he managed to save a par to card a clean round and tie Nate Lashley (first and third round in 2019), JT Poston (second round in 2019) and Davis Thompson (first round in 2021) for the fastest round in tournament history.
“Cam Young is by far the favorite in my opinion (for Rookie of the Year),” Theegala said. “He’s more deserving right now. If I happen to have a few good weeks here and in the playoffs, that might change.
“But Cam, again, 9 under today, he’s such a talent and I think he deserves it.”
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At first, Theegala looked like he had a similar type of round to Young, who he says started from the momentum he got when he closed out his round on Thursday.
At the end of that round, he hit the bridge driver on par-5 No. 17, much to the chagrin of his caddy Carl Smith, and ran through him into a bunker 60 yards away – although he did the by.
Then the duo got the number wrong on No. 18 and air-balled the green 20 yards. Still, he was able to play and sink a 10-footer to save par and wrap up the inning with a 68.
“It was big,” he said. “I knew this morning would be a green light stage. I mean the course is too pure right now, if you hit the fairway – I mean it always penalizes you in the rough – but if you hit the fairways , it’s like every hole can be a birdie hole.”
At first they were all birdie holes.
Theegala, starting from the back nine, birdied five in six holes between Nos. 13 and 18, the only par coming on the 15th par 3 from 145 yards.
After returning one on the No. 5, he got another circle on the card from the No. 8 to conclude his 67.
Theegala said he played much better on Thursday, especially given the windy conditions. He hit the ball better, which he’s done well all season, but on Friday he thought he left some tee shots on the green.
But where he is happiest with his game is on the greens.
Theegala won 1,653 strokes with the flatstick on Friday, which ranked 10th off the course, after his 2,849 strokes won on the green Thursday was 8th.
“I can count on my right hand the number of good putting weeks I’ve had this year,” he said. “But yeah, that’s golf in a nutshell. Yesterday I was texting a friend about how impossible it seemed to get all parts of your game clicking at once.
“But it seems like the big players, the top 10 players find a way to do it some weeks and that’s where they win.”
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Will Zalatoris and Max Homa look safe
It remains to be seen if some of the biggest names in the tournament, like Will Zalatoris and Max Homa, will be there for the weekend.
Zalatoris, the second-highest ranked player on the court this week at No. 13 in the world, shot a 1-under 71 on Friday, putting him at 3-under for the tournament. Homa, ranked 20th in the world, rebounded from a 72 on Thursday, to shoot a 4-under 68.
As the afternoon wave was set to go, 3 cents was the projected cut line, meaning both will do over the weekend. Top 65 players and ties make the cut.
Zalatoris, a PGA Championship and US Open runner-up this season, missed his first two holes, nos 10 and 11, but landed a par-5 14th shot and made a fine approach from 142 yards 3½ feet at the difficult 18th green and sank the birdie. He bugged No. 4, but birdies at No. 5 and 7 put him in red numbers for the day.
Homa, after bogeying our 12 and 16, birdied our 18, 1, 5 and 7. His final tee shot into the par-3 ninth green from 200 yards landed inside five feet, and he gutted the crucial birdie putt to push it safely into the weekend.
Contact Tony Garcia at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.