Two former Cal Bear golfers played consistent golf over the first two days of the Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Club, putting themselves in position for a possible run at ending the Cal-PGA Tour jinx.
Despite a history of great golf, the Cal squad has never graduated a player who has gone on to win on the PGA Tour. Former Cal golfer Charlie Wi, who turned professional in 1995, came heart-breakingly close in the 2012 AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, when a first-round 61 vaulted him into an early lead, and a pair of 69s positioned him for a win. Wi posted a final-round 72 and fell to a surging Phil Mickelson, settling for second place.
Wi is the best-positioned of the players in the field with Northern California connections, posting rounds of 67 and 68 to close out the first two days of the tournament T-6, four strokes back of 36-hole leader Brooks Koepka.
Will Wi, the 18-year professional, or rookie pro Max Homa, a 2013 grad, be the first Cal grad to take a PGA Tour title, here at the Frys.com Open? Both are well-positioned for a run at the lead, with Homa two strokes back of Wi’s 36-hole total. If Wi or Homa were to break through with a win this weekend, Cal golf fans would rejoice at the breaking of the years-long “jinx”.
Homa, galleried by a contingent of friends and Cal alumni, played with cool confidence today, backing up his first-round 69 with a 68 to post a 36-hole total of 137, good for T-18 at the close of play.
2013 Walker Cup star Homa opened his round with a string of three straight one-putt birdies before faltering slightly with a short approach at the uphill, 418-yard par-4 fourth hole that led to a long whack with a putter from the front fringe and a two-putt bogey.
Homa carded two more birdies on the front nine, the first coming at the 166-yard, par-3 seventh hole, where he hit his tee ball to just under four feet and rolled in the birdie putt; he displayed similar precision at the par-5 ninth, flying his third shot to 9-1/2 feet from 120 yards out and again, converting for birdie.
Bogeys at 10 and 13 marred Homa’s back nine, though he recouped one of the lost shots with a birdie at the 15th hole.
The bogey at 10 came as a result of a wayward drive that ended up in a deep swale well right of the fairway; his approach shot landed in a closely-mown area well short of the green, and a long roll with the putter hopped off the face and checked up short, leading to two putts and a bogey.
Homa’s bogey at 13 could have been much worse. After a tee shot to the right fairway, just inboard of a fairway bunker, he flew the green with his approach, the ball catching a bad hop off the backside of the greens complex and coming to rest just beyond the cart path behind the hole. With guidance from a Tour rules official, Homa took relief from the cart path, TV cables and a camera vehicle and hit an amazingly difficult low-flying pitch shot that just hung up in the rough at the edge of the green. A chip and a tap-in putt later, he was in with a five on the hole.
Course management and precision iron play came into play for the last birdie of Homa’s round, at #15, a tough-looking split-fairway, uphill par-5 that has nevertheless been playing slightly under par so far in the tournament. After his drive ended up in the left-hand fairway bunker, but in a level lie a the bottom of the hazard, Homa laid up with a 106-yard shot to the intermediate fairway, leaving himself 113 yards away from the right front flag. Another pin-seeking approach shot left him with a 14-inch birdie putt, which he banged in to take back one of the lost strokes from earlier in the round.
Due to the number of players who made the cut, Saturday’s third round will again be run in three-player groupings off of two tees. Homa will tee off at 10:50 a.m. at Tee #1; Wi at 11:30 a.m., also from the first tee.