Tanco in AJGA ToC hunt; Straka leads boys
JOHNSON, Ark. – After leaving the scoring tent, Emily Tubert wanted to know her position. Three back, she was told. She nodded, shrugged and then cautioned: “This is a golf course where no lead is safe, and anything can happen.”
But even Tubert couldn’t believe who came charging up the leaderboard Wednesday at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions.
Defending champion Victoria Tanco, who shot a season-worst 83 in the opening round, rebounded with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 to get within three strokes of the lead, set hours earlier by Tubert and matched later in the afternoon by Kristen Park. Tanco’s 66 was easily the best 18-hole score in the girls division through two rounds at Blessings Golf Club, and it vaulted her from a tie for 41st to T-4. The scoring average on Day 2 was 80.6.
“I knew that I was going to have to shoot a good number if I wanted to have a chance to win, and I was able to do that,” Tanco said.
She is now chasing Tubert, who is playing the best golf of her career after an eye-opening victory June 26 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Tubert bogeyed her final hole of the day to post a two-round total of 2-over 146, and was three shots off the lead when she signed her scorecard.
“Anything can happen here,” Tubert said later. “It may look like you’re playing well, but it takes just one swing – scratch that – one bad thought and you’re done.
“I like where I’m at. I’m in a good place going into tomorrow.”
Tubert is tied at the top with Park, who chipped in for eagle on the par-5 ninth, her final hole of the day, to grab a share of the lead.
“Right now I’m not even thinking about my score because the course is so hard,” Park said.
It didn’t look that way to Tubert, who put on another impressive power display in the second round. She birdied two of the par 5s but found trouble on the par-4 sixth, when her second shot found the hazard bordering the front of the green. She played her third from the rocks, pitching the ball back into the fairway, and got up-and-down for bogey.
“The last two days, I’ve kept away from the big numbers,” Tubert said, wiping the sole of her Titleist wedge that now has three nicks. “I’ve gotten into trouble, but I’ve managed it well.”
Few players got into more trouble in the opening round than Tanco. She took five penalty strokes Tuesday and had an embarrassing incident on the 16th hole when she ran out of balls (no penalty on the AJGA).
“Yesterday was so bad,” Tanco said, “but I just came here today wanting to forget about yesterday and start over again, and that helped me with my confidence.”
Starting on the back nine, Tanco turned in 3-under 32, then made three straight birdies on Nos. 3-5 to move to 5 over. She was in danger of dropping a shot on the par-3 eighth, after her tee shot gathered in a collection area well below the putting surface. But she surveyed her options, opened the face of her lob wedge and lofted a high flop that pitched softly into the fringe and trickled to within 6 inches.
“I did it perfectly,” she said.
And the 66?
“That was way lower than what I thought was even possible,” said playing partner Rachel Morris, who is two shots back.
• • •
Sam Straka’s sleep-deprived 69 looked like an aberration an hour into his second round Wednesday at Blessings Golf Club. Four over after five holes, and now three shots out of the lead, he was merely trying to claw his way back to even par, a score he figured could still win the championship.
Now, those at level par are quickly becoming an afterthought.
Straka overcame that shaky start and ran off eight birdies in a nine-hole stretch around the turn, carding a 6-under 66 to take a commanding five-shot lead after the second round of the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions. He sits at 9-under 135.
“I feel happy that I’m leading halfway,” said Straka, a Georgia commit, “and I’m going to try to do the same thing tomorrow – hit good shots, stay out of trouble. That’s all it’s about on this course.”
Playing the final 13 holes in 10-under par certainly helps. On a course some proclaimed as the hardest they’ve ever played, Straka is putting up numbers that few can comprehend.
“He’s a good player,” said Drew Czuchry, who after a second-round 70 is five shots back. “I’ve seen him go low before. But never like this.”
Straka flew to Arkansas late Monday night, after shooting 66 in the second round of a 36-hole U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier near Atlanta. Playing Blessings for the first time, and on three hours rest, he shot 69 and held the lead at an invitational for the first time.
When he arrived Wednesday afternoon, after sleeping through the night and morning, he stuck to his routine and didn’t pay attention to the leaderboard.
“After that 66 in the qualifier, I kind of figured I would play good if I didn’t mess up in the first round,” Straka said. “But no, I didn’t see myself leading after 36.”
For a while Wednesday, it looked like he’d plummet out of contention.
Straka double-bogeyed the par-5 second, after a poor lay-up disappeared in the fescue and he was unable to find his ball. He followed that up with bogeys on Nos. 3 and 5, dropping him to 1-over par for the tournament.
Then came the turnaround.
Straka birdied three of his next four holes, then poured in five straight birdies on Nos. 10-14 to soar up the leaderboard. He capped his round with a 9-iron to 3 feet on the par-5 16th to set up an easy eagle – and a back-nine 28.
“It’s pretty special,” Straka said.
Stanford commit Shane Lebow (70) and Czuchry were five back, and Shun Yat Hak was another shot behind after a 72. Anthony Paolucci (74) and Patrick Rodgers (74) were 10 shots back.
Asked if he’s ever been in a similar position, Straka replied, unabashedly, “Nope, never. First time.”
And then, breaking into a smile, “But I’m getting pretty comfortable.”