Fort Smith, Ark.
Darron Stiles couldn’t care less about finesse, or the leaderboard.
Stiles’ indifference on the two topics was especially clear after the third round at the Rheem Classic. Stiles had just fired a 6-under 66 to double his lead from two shots to four.
“There’s no finesse in my game,” Stiles said May 13. “I’ll hit driver on just about any hole in the world. I’m not afraid to hit it. I’m driving it good right now so everything looks pretty good.”
Pretty good in that Stiles tied for fifth in driving accuracy (73.1 percent) en route to his fourth Nationwide Tour title. This one came over Michael Putnam on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.
“I’ve got so much confidence in my driver that I’m not afraid to swing it at any time,” Stiles said. “I’m above average now. I wouldn’t say I’m a big hitter any more, I guess I used to be but I’ve gone for more accuracy over distance.”
And accuracy he’s gotten.
In addition to ranking 23rd in driving accuracy percentage in 2005, Stiles also showed consistent play with another club – his putter.
Stiles changed to a mallet-head putter before the final round April 30 of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and then went out and shot 64. The success has carried over.
“It’s definitely the best I’ve hit the ball in a while, maybe since Hartford last year on the PGA Tour. I get in those runs where I start hitting the ball well and if I can get the putts to start dropping then my confidence goes up,”said Stiles, who tied for second at Rheem with 27 putts per round. “When my confidence goes up in my head, that’s the big thing, especially with me and the putter.”
And as for those chasing him heading into the final round at Hardscrabble Country Club, Stiles said he wasn’t too concerned.
“I know what’s going on out there but I wouldn’t say I watch the leaderboards,” Stiles said. “I don’t watch them on every hole, but I’m usually pretty aware of what’s going on.”
Playing through the pain: Jay Delsing was having a rough week even before hitting his first tee shot. Delsing, 46, and a past PGA Tour winner in his 20-plus-year pro career, came to Fort Smith with a heavy heart. His father, Jim, 80, died of cancer May 4.
But despite having a difficult time concentrating on his rounds, Delsing had a share of the lead after Friday’s second round after a 6-under 64, and eventually tied for fifth at 8-under 272.
“This is a special place for me and I know my dad would have liked me to come down here and that’s why I did,” Delsing said. “I didn’t feel much like playing golf. So far it’s been very special because I haven’t felt very energized. I don’t know what I’m feeling. It’s been an interesting week. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s obviously life-changing.”
Jim Delsing played 10 years in Major League Baseball and is probably best known for being the pinch runner for midget Eddie Gaedel in one of baseball’s famous stunts. It was on Aug. 19, 1951, that St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck ordered Gaedel to the plate in the second game of a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel walked on four pitches and Browns manager Zack Taylor sent in Delsing to pinch run.
Short shots: Included in the starting field at the Rheem were five of the last nine U.S. Amateur champions – Matt Kuchar (1997), David Gossett (1999), Jeff Quinney (2000), Ricky Barnes (2002) and Nick Flanagan (2003). Kuchar and Gossett each
have a PGA Tour victory to their credit.
In addition, there were three past U.S. Amateur Public Links champions in the field – Hunter Haas (1999), Chez Reavie (2002) and Brandt Snedeker (2003). Among the highest finishers were Kuchar, who tied for 16th and Reavie and Snedeker, who tied for 27th. . . . After winning the Chitimacha Louisiana Open two months ago, Johnson Wagner battled strong first-round winds to match his lowest round with a 6-under 64. . . . Brothers, and former University of Arkansas standouts, Deane and Brenden Pappas, were two strokes off the lead after 36 holes. Deane finished third at 270 and Brenden tied for 10th at 273.
– Ron Balicki and wire reports
On the tee
Next up: The Rex Hospital Open, June 1-4, TPC Wakefield Plantation, Raleigh, N.C. 2005 champion: Eric Axley.
The buzz: Scores traditionally have been low at the Rex. The course record (62) was set by Rob Bradley in 2003 and last year’s champion Eric Axley shot 14-under 270.