Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood: The lead

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kevin Tway was feeling pretty good about his standing in the John Deere Classic after bagging nine birdies across 10 holes in the second round.

Then the rest of the afternoon wave came through.

It was more like a tsunami.

Tway, even after a career-best 8-under-par 63, is tied for fifth going into the weekend at TPC Deere Run.

That’s how it is in the Deere, where the track meet of birdies begins Thursday morning and never lets up. A daily bushelful of birdies is mandatory to stay among the leaders. Par is rarely a friend. Bogeys are toxic.

Tway birdied seven straight holes, just like daddy Bob Tway once did on the circuit, taking himself from 1-under – which would have missed the cut – to 8-under, and eventually got to the lead at 10-under before a bogey dropped him to 9-under-par 133.

The 63 was the day’s best round, but here in Birdieville, he’s four strokes behind Patrick Rodgers, who made Tway’s binge look like kid stuff. Rodgers sank 146 feet of putts en route to a 7-under 64, including a 51-foot putt on the par-3 seventh and a 27-footer on the par-4 eighth. He also chipped in for birdie on the third hole, a bonus bird that offset his bogey on the ninth, his last hole of the day and only bogey of the week.

Still, at 13-under 129 he’s the leader at the halfway point. Bryson DeChambeau, who added a 65 to a 66 for 11-under 131, is second, with 2010 champion and tournament board member Zach Johnson tied with Charles Howell III for third at 10-under 132.

Then there’s Tway and his pals at 133: Chesson Hadley, Chad Campbell and J.J. Henry.

“I was kind of hoping it would never stop, but it did,” Tway said. “You’ve got to make a lot of birdies around here, so I’ll just keep trying to do that.”

Rodgers is 25 and seems to have been playing in the Deere since he was 12. It’s actually his sixth appearance, with 11 rounds in the 60s out of 16. He tied for 15th as an amateur in 2013, and briefly led on Saturday.

“My dad took a screenshot of the leaderboard, and framed it,” Rodgers recalled.

Pops Rodgers might get a picture of his kid with the trophy on Sunday night. His tee-to-green game is back in shape, he’s been putting like the devil for close to three months, and just enough of a rare cooling north wind on Friday made him take notice.

“I was very much focused on the task at hand,” Rodgers said. “It was breezy enough where you just had to be locked in for every shot. I did a nice job staying present and patient all day.

“It was one of those days where you look up at the leader board and you’re 6-, 7-, 8-under.”

DeChambeau, whose clubs are the same length, went back to the putter he used to win the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, which explains needing only 26 putts on Friday and 56 in 36 holes.

“It’s just a product of taking out as many variables as possible,” said DeChambeau, who played with Rodgers. “I had great control speed and I got lucky a couple times. Now I feel I’m really turning the right direction, being able to see reads, confirm them, and be able to execute them online.”

Like Rodgers, DeChambeau was previously given a sponsor exemption by tournament director Clair Peterson. He missed the cut in 2015, but learned something.

“You have to have a really good wedge game and understand how to hit shots in the wind, control trajectory, spin rates, everything like that,” DeChambeau said. “That’s what I was able to do beautifully this week – or today.”

Johnson’s quiet 4-under 67 – no birdies on par 5s – on top of his opening 65 kept him in contention at the tournament the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native holds closest to his heart.

“I’m very comfortable,” Johnson said. “I feel my best game is still in front of me. I wish I could have taken more advantage of the par-5s today. It’s not exactly ideal. I think I had three putts inside eight or nine feet that I missed. (But) there are way more positives right now than negatives.”

Around Deere Run

There’s a fight for low amateur, with Maverick McNealy of Stanford and Northbrook’s Nick Hardy of Illinois at 5-under 137. ... The cut fell at 2-under 140, the highest since a similar trim in 2014, and kept 82 players around for the weekend. Among those going home early: Illinois senior-to-be Dylan Meyer (142), D.A. Points (144), defending champion Ryan Moore (145), and local fan favorite Kurt Slattery (147, a 76 following his opening 71). ... Max Homa, who stood 4-under with five holes to play but bogeyed three of his last five holes to finish at 1-under 141, also missed the cut. He’s made the cut once in a dozen tries this season. ... Angel Cabrera became the third player to withdraw, pulling the pin after going out in 5-over 41 on Friday to stand at 7-over after 27 holes. ... Tway’s seven-birdie run was impressive, but the tournament record is eight by Fuzzy Zoeller at Oakwood Country Club in the second round of the 1976 Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open. He finished second. ... The scoring average was 69.771, lowest in the second round since 2013. The day’s 575 birdies pushes the three day total to 1,236, a good start for the tournament’s “Birdies for Charity” initiative.

Tim Cronin

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