IRVING, Texas – Golf fans of all ages, the Byron Nelson Championship has something for you this weekend.
Kids, check out 16-year-old Jordan Spieth. He played hooky from his junior year of high school to make his PGA Tour debut, becoming the first prep to take on the pros here since Tiger Woods in 1993. Woods didn’t make the cut then, but Spieth cleared it with ease Friday, becoming the sixth-youngest player to do so at a Tour event.
For folks who’ve been following the sport since long before Spieth was born, the guy to watch is 47-year-old Steve Elkington. He got into the field as an alternate on Sunday, when someone else dropped out, then shot a 66 to become part of a seven-way tie for the lead. He followed with another 66, putting him two shots behind the lead.
Weekend warriors will love Blake Adams, a 34-year-old rookie who spent the last three years on the Nationwide Tour and whose career story is a funny, sad tale about perseverance. He, too, was part of that cluster at the top after the first round, then piled up six birdies on his way to a 64 and a 10-under 130 and a share of the second-round lead.
Finally, in a tournament lacking really big names, there are the guys hoping it’s their turn in the spotlight, like Cameron Beckman and Jason Day.
Beckman won a Tour event for the first time a few months ago, but it was against a weak field and he’s struggled ever since. He teed it up Friday right around the cut line, only to walk off the course around lunchtime with the lead.
Beckman finished his delayed opening round with a pair of birdies that turned a 1-over into a 1-under 69, then shot a 61, tying the TPC Four Seasons course record and setting a personal best. He’s tied for first with Adams; Day is a stroke behind. Spieth is tied for 22nd at 3-under 137.
“I feel like I played better than my score showed today,” said Spieth, who already has accepted a sponsor’s invitation to play the PGA event in Memphis, June 10-13. “When something like that happens, and you’re still somewhat in it, you kind of realize that if putts start to drop, you can make a run at it.
The kid opened the day needing to finish seven holes from his suspended opening round, which was at even par. He made a pair of birdies to finish at 68, took about a half-hour break, then shot 69 in the second round. He had three birdies and two bogeys.He followed his second bogey by jerking an approach into a bunker he was trying to avoid. He chipped close enough to make birdie. On No.18, he thrilled a gallery filled with screaming teenagers by landing a shot 12 feet from the cup.
“He’s just playing the way he’s capable of playing,” said Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback who befriended Spieth months ago and joined his gallery for the final three holes.
Elkington first played this event in 1987, long before Spieth was born and about 1 1/2 years before the birth of Rickie Fowler, one of his playing partners.
He was once a star, winning 10 PGA Tour events in the 1990s, including a major. He hasn’t won since 1999, and hasn’t finished better than 54th on the money list, more often landing in the 100s. He missed the cut here the last two years.
“I had a great 90s, I didn’t do much in the last decade, so I’m glad that’s over with, you know?” he said. “Last year, for example, I had rounds where I played one day like Sam Snead the next day like Sam Sausage. I did that last week in San Antonio.”
He’s eager to see if he can put together two more days like the last two.
“I want to try to get myself under as much pressure as I can,” he said. “I want to see what it’s all about for me, you know?”
Adams is a good ol’ boy from Georgia who knew he’d be an athlete, but didn’t expect it to be golf. Worn-out rotator cuffs and all sorts of broken bones limited his options.
Since turning pro in 2001, he’s had a bulging disk in his back, arthritis, bone spurs, a cyst and a hip that needs to be replaced. Therapy on the hip in late 2008 and early 2009 helped launch him onto the Tour, where he’s been able to take advantage of the physical therapy trailer. This was the eighth cut he’s made in 14 starts, with one top-10 finish.
“I’ve always believed in myself, like any athlete does,” Adams said. “I knew that if I was healthy that I could do things.”
Beckman won a February tournament opposite the Match Play Championship, then missed six of seven cuts. He admits to “maybe a little lull after the win, I think I lost a little focus,” such as working on getting a pilot’s license.
Three hard weeks of practice, and ironing out a flaw in his alignment (“I’ve been lining up right since I won”) seem to have made a big difference.
Day is a 22-year-old Australian who long been hailed as a future star. His season has been set back by illnesses, but a new diagnosis seems to be paying off.
“The goal tomorrow and the next day is to stay patient and try and give myself a chance to make the birdies,” Day said.
Vijay Singh and Rickie Fowler won’t be sticking around for the weekend. They can use the time to pick a sectional qualifying site for the U.S. Open.
Both missed the cut, which means they missed their chance to get an automatic spot in the Open. Singh needed to finish in the top four, Fowler in the top seven, to move into the top 50 in the world rankings released Monday, which is the deadline for those spots securing the major berth.
NOTES: Ken Duke had the first hole-in-one at this tournament since Singh in 2005. … The seven-way tie for the lead after the first round ups the chances for this event to be won by the opening-round leader. That hasn’t happened since Scott Simpson in 1993. … Defending champion Rory Sabbatini is at 135. So is Corey Pavin, who needs this tournament to become the first person ever to win a Texas Slam, all four PGA Tour events in the Lone Star State.