LAKE OCONEE, Ga. – Six women and six men will tee it up Friday at the Big Break Invitational Reynolds Plantation, each individual sharing the same goal – to win the first-place $100K prize.
After two rounds of Modified Stableford followed by match play on Thursday, the final round will be stroke play. If past “Big Break” results are an indicator of future success, then the Friday favorite is gender neutral.
Of 21 “Big Break” seasons past, six have been co-ed that awarded a single winner. Which gender won more? You guessed it – three were won by women and three were won by men, which indicates the inaugural Big Break Invitational is anybody’s – and either gender’s – for the taking.
It would seem encouraging for Team Women that the week’s low round was posted by a female – an 8-under 64 on Wednesday. What's not-so-encouraging is the woman who authored that round was sent packing Thursday, No. 1 seed Ryan O’Toole, when No. 12 seed Mallory Blackwelder upset her, 3 and 2.
Perhaps the men have the advantage, then, since the next-lowest round posted this week was a 6-under 66 on Wednesday by Mark Silver. Guess again, because Silver was defeated, 1 up, by Brent Long on Thursday and won’t be representing Team Men on Friday.
Of the women and men who are playing Friday, here’s what they shot the first two days at the Great Waters Course (throwing out Thursday’s matches from the equation since not all the matches went to 18 holes and as is the case with match play, some putts were conceded and not officially holed):
Emily Talley: 72-68 (4 under)
Sadena Parks: 73-72 (1 over)
Gerina Piller: 70-76 (2 over)
Jackie Stoelting: 72-75 (3 over)
Sara Brown: 75-75 (6 over)
Mallory Blackwelder: 75-77 (8 over)
Tony Finau: 67-70 (7 under)
Derek Gillespie: 69-70 (5 under)
Tommy Gainey: 70-70 (4 under)
Hugo Leon: 71-71 (2 under)
Brent Long: 70-75 (1 over)
Jay Woodson: 74-73 (3 over)
Talley is the only female under par for two rounds compared to four men under par – Finau, Gillespie, Gainey and Leon. On paper, it’s advantage men. Psychologically, the women are a force to be reckoned with.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not scared of the boys,” Blackwelder said. “On my shows, I did beat plenty of (men) and hung right there with them.”
Blackwelder competed on two co-ed “Big Break” shows – Ireland, NFL – and is married to former professional golfer and current PGA Tour caddie Julien Trudeau. She knows a thing or two about how to keep up on the course. Perhaps those experiences will give her a psychological leg-up on who appears to be the front-runner for the men.
“I’ve never competed against girls,” Finau said. “Whoever is on the other side, it’s a totally different tournament with stroke play tomorrow.”
Unlike Finau, Piller has plenty of experience competing against – and outplaying – members of the opposite sex.
“I actually grew up playing with the boys,” Piller said, “so I like beating the boys.”
Said Long, "The girls are playing really good right now. Ryann O’Toole shot 8 under yesterday, with eight birdies and that’s pretty solid….But it’s going to be a great match. It’s going to be fun.”
The Great Waters Course doesn’t know or care whether the person standing on the first tee Friday is a woman or a man. Twelve terrific competitors remain and for each of them, the battles they fight in the final round will be with themselves and with the course. What it won't be is a battle of the sexes ... or will it?