Russell leads by 3 midway through Northeast Am

Texas A&M's Jordan Russell

RUMFORD, R.I. – After hitting his drive on his final hole of the day (No. 9) during Thursday's second round, Jordan Russell was walking down the tee when he heard someone call his name. Looking to his right, he saw his Texas A&M teammate Johannes Veerman, who had just made his way to the nearby No. 1 green to start his round.

“Hey Jordan,” Veerman yelled with a big smile. “Are you sure you’re playing the correct tees?”

The question was understandable. The last time Veerman saw a leaderboard, Russell was 5 under on the day and 11 under for the tournament, just about lapping the field at that early stage of the second round.

While Russell would give back two of those shots coming in on yet another hot and humid New England day, his 3-under 66 gave him a 9-under 139 total and a comfortable lead midway through the 51st Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club.

That gave Russell a three-stroke lead over Tim Jackson of Germantown, Tenn., who shot 67-65. Jackson's 6-under 132 is his best 36-hole start in 18 Northeast Amateurs.

Canadian Mitch Sutton of North Carolina State was another three shots back at 3-under 135 after a 68, while Curtis Thompson, Peter Williamson and mid-ams John Engler and Todd White followed at 136.

Russell’s total ties the tournament’s 36-hole scoring record set by Billy Horschel in 2007.

“I got off to a fast start and overall played pretty solid,” said Russell, whose round consisted of six birdies and three bogeys. “I hit a lot of wedges close, especially on the back side (his front nine). The front is difficult; it always is.”

That certainly has been the case for Russell, who so far is getting a little revenge with the back nine from his final round last year.

In 2011, Russell was 3 under and tied for 11th after three rounds and played the front nine the final day in even par. But he struggled home, shooting 3 over on the back to finish his first Northeast Amateur at even par and tied for 22nd.

This week he has owned the back nine. In his opening-round 63, he shot a 5-under 30 on that side and in Thursday’s second round played it in 4-under 31, basically meaning his 9 under total is his score on the back side so far.

“I played the par 3s on the back well, 2 under,” said Russell, who plans to turn pro later this summer after the U.S. Amateur, in which he was a semifinalist last year. “I’ve hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine and just really feel comfortable out there for some reason.”

Russell was a second-team All-American at Texas A&M as a junior but struggled a bit during his recent senior season. He said these past two weeks (he tied for fifth at the Texas State Amateur last week) are the best he has played since reaching the final four at the ‘11 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin.

“It feels good to be playing well again,” he said. “It was tougher out there today. The pins were tucked, and you had to be on point with your iron shots. Some holes, even with wedges, you couldn’t go for the pins. So right now, I’m pretty thrilled with the way I’m playing and where I stand.”

So, too, does Jackson, who at 53 is the oldest player in this year’s starting field. Starting on the 10th hole, he made birdie at 10 and 11 and then 17 and 18, with a bogey at 14. He again made bogey at No. 1, but came back with birdies at 3 and 6.

“I don’t hit it out there with most of these young guys, but I’ve been coming here a long time and I know the golf course; I love the golf course,” Jackson said. “I know where to hit it and how to hit, and I think that’s where I have an advantage over some of these guys. My knowledge of the course, and especially the greens, is a huge plus.”

Jackson said while it was hot, it was not something he wasn’t accustomed to.

“I’m from Tennessee, so I’m used to this kind of heat,” said Jackson, who has been low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open for the last three years. “For me, though, it’s just been a matter of everything coming together these first two days.”

Jackson’s best finish in this tournament came in 2005, when he tied for fourth at 3-under 273, five shots behind winner Kyle Reifers.

• • •

One of the premier pairings of the first two rounds had Justin Thomas of Alabama and Blayne Barber of Auburn, both first-team All-Americans this past season. Thomas was the Golf Coaches Association of America's Mickelson (freshman) and Nicklaus (player) award winner and on Wednesday was announced as winner of the Haskins Award as player of the year. Barber was a member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team.

They held their own in the first round, Thomas shooting 2-under 67 and Barber 1-over 70. Then both crumbled. Barber came in with a 5-over 74, making two birdies, five bogeys and a double. Thomas, in certainly a rare round for the talented youngster, did not have a birdie. Starting on the 10th hole, he had four bogeys and a double to turn in 6-over 41. He closed out his round with bogeys at Nos. 8 and 9 for an 8-over 77.

• • •

Thursday’s second round produced 14 scores under par, nine less than the 23 that were posted in the opening round . . . Jackson’s 4-under 65 matched the best round of the day, also shot by Michael Hebert of Orlando and Florida State. . . . For the second consecutive year, the field will be cut to the low 50 scorers and ties after Friday’s third round . . . The relatively short 372-yard, par-4 fifth hole played the toughest in Round 2, with a 4.42 stroke average. . . . Once again, the course’s lone par 5, the 558-yard 17th, played the easiest, at 4.57.

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