In four PGA Tour starts this season, rookie phenom James Hahn has demonstrated that he has the ability to go low: he posted a pair of 67s at the Sony Open, bookended his run at the Humana Challenge with scores of 63 and 62, and closed out the Waste Management Phoenix Open with a 62.
Playing his second round of the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, on fairways and greens softened by the overnight rain, Hahn dipped into the 60s for the fifth time this year, following up the 1-under 71 he carded yesterday at Pebble Beach with a 5-under 65, a performance that moved him 50 places up the leaderboard.
It is a feature of the AT&T Pro-Am that, because of the different par ratings of the courses (Pebble Beach and Spyglass are par-72s, MPCC Shore is a par-70 for the pros) it is not really possible to declare a leader until the end of Saturday's rounds; however, a move up the leaderboard like the one Hahn made today is significant no matter which courses in the rota he has played.
Two other players with Bay Area/Northern California connections didn’t fare as well today. Mitch Lowe, a teaching pro on staff at the Stanford University Golf Course, followed Thursday’s 5-over round at Pebble Beach with +7 round of 77 on the Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s par-70 Shore Course. Playing at Pebble Beach today, rookie pro Derek Ernst, a native of Clovis, CA, who started the day at 2-over, looked to be moving into red numbers after back-to-back birdies at the notorious par-5 sixth hole and the innocuous but tricky par-3 seventh. The recent UNLV grad punched a tremendous second shot up the hill to the sixth green, giving himself a 10-foot look at eagle. His eagle putt slid by the cup on the left, but he dropped the 1-foot comebacker for his birdie. At the petite par-3 seventh hole, a mere 101 yards from the back tees, Ernst dropped a soaring wedge to 4 feet 10 inches, then stuffed the birdie putt home.
After parring the eight hole, the first of the three par-4s that close out the outward stretch of oceanside holes, Ernst ran into trouble when his second shot at the ninth hole ended up in the left front greenside bunker. He caught his third shot thin, the ball flying up and out of the bunker cleanly, but rolling across the putting surface and past the front center pin, coming to rest against the collar of the green where fringe transitions into rough. The putt from that tricky position rolled past the hole, and he took two more to get down for a double.
Bunker trouble plagued Ernst for the next three holes, resulting in bogeys at 10, 11, and 12 – the 210-yard par-3 which is playing as the toughest hole on the course. Righting the ship with a string of well-executed pars at holes 13 through 15, Ernst took a shot back from par at the 16th. A 268-yard drive to just outside of the left side of the fairway left him with a clear angle to the flag, and in an opportune return to the precision iron play which is generally a strong component of his game, he dropped his approach to 4 feet, 1 inch for a stress-free birdie. Another accurate iron, off the tee at the par-3 seventeenth, gave him another birdie look, but the 9-foot putt slid 3 feet by, resulting in a par.
With the wind up, and hurting, at the 18th hole, Ernst striped his drive 249 yards to a spot just left of the center of the fairway, then laid up with a 221-yard second shot to the right fairway, 76 yards from the hole. Yet another precision approach shot left him 9 feet, 3 inches from the hole, pin-high and right, and he slid the birdie putt in with a lovely finesse to recover another shot from par and end his round on a high note.
Sitting now at +3, with the likelihood of the cut to the Top 60 and ties coming in at two or three under par, Ernst will need to lay a low score on Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course on Saturday if he is to make the cut. Shorter and somewhat easier than its sister courses in the AT&T rota, with wide fairways, MPCC Shore has less stringent second shots than are typical at Spyglass Hill, and more inviting greens than the home course, Pebble Beach. With calmer, but still somewhat chilly, conditions forecast for tomorrow, this might be just the combination of circumstances which leads to Derek Ernst’s second made cut of the season.