RENO, Nev. - Vaughn Taylor’s only two career wins on the PGA tour have come at the Reno-Tahoe Open, where he’s making a bid to claim a third after a 6-under-par 66 on Friday gave him a one-shot lead over Will MacKenzie.
Taylor had an eagle and four birdies, then parred the last five holes to move to 9-under 135 at Montreux Golf & Country Club, where his victories in 2004 and 2005 make him the 13-year-old tourney’s only two-time winner.
“It’s good to come back to a place you’ve played well,” said Taylor, 35, who grew up and still lives near Augusta, Ga.
“I’m sure those other guys would say the same thing,” he said. “A lot of good memories, a lot of good vibes, and you almost feel like you kind of pick up where you left off.”
Steve Flesch, the 2007 champion, shot a 69 and is tied for third with Hunter Haas and first-round leader Nick O’Hern at 7-under 137. Haas had a 67, O’Hern a 72.
“It’s fun to just get back in contention,” said Flesch, who also won at Turning Stone in 2007 for his fourth career victory but hasn’t won since. “I’ve been playing so poorly for three years now. It was fun too actually see my name up there.”
Steve Elkington birdied four of his last five holes for a 65 to get to 6-under 138 in a group that includes 2002 Reno champ Chris Riley, who shot a 72 Friday, and Notah Begay III, the winner of the inaugural tourney in 1999. Begay carded a 67 to make his first cut since 2009 at the AT&T National.
“I’m usually going home after the first two rounds,” Begay said. “But it feels good. I played great. My putting has been fabulous.”
“You come back, good memories, past champion, people remember you and they cheer for you and it kind of gives you good energy,” he said.
His group at 6-under also includes Roland Thatcher, who shot a 67 Friday, along with Michael Thompson (68) and Robert Garrigus, Jay Williamson and Rod Pampling, who all shot 70.
Taylor holed out from a greenside bunker on the first hole, made a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second hole and added a 25-foot birdie on the par-3 11th. He drove the ball 302 yards on the 518-yard 13th, then hit a 5-iron stiff from about 210 yards to set up the short eagle putt.
“It ended up about three or four feet from the hole and those are always nice to have for eagle,” Taylor said.
He credited a switch to a “spinnier ball” for part of his success on the 7,472-yard mountain course where the ball typically travels about 10 percent farther than at sea level.
“You need it to stay in the air in the altitude,” he said about one of the many calculations required to determine yardages often in swirling wind. “The caddie does all the math, and we decide on clubs together. It’s too difficult to do on your own.”
MacKenzie, who followed an opening 67 with a 69, said even a little bit of wind can make the course play much harder.
“You’re judging so much - 10 percent air quality, elevation changes and then we’ll throw in the wind and the greens dry out. It’s really difficult to get close to the hole,” he said.
Garrigus ranks third on tour averaging 310 yards per drive but even he’s getting a kick out of the added length.
“I know I hit it far already, but it’s extra special when you can hit a tee shot 400 yards and you don’t really have to do much,” he said. “I can hit 3 wood off the tees on the par 5s and still get to them in two and some of them are 600 yards.”
Elkington birdied three of the four par 5s, settling for par when he missed a 20-footer on the 620-yard 18th.
“You’ve got to play those holes well if you want to shoot low,” he said.
Haas birdied all four of the longest holes and had looks at eagle putts on three of them, including the 18th when he drove the ball 311 yards then hit his approach 310 yards to inside 28 feet.
“It makes the round a little easier when you’re hitting good approach shots from 270, 280, 300 yards,” Haas said. He said the problem is “trusting that distance.”
“You’re hitting a pitching wedge from 175 yards or something like that. You’re used to hitting a pitching wedge 140. That’s kind of hard to trust,” Haas said.
“It’s a guessing game sometimes.”