Due to the absence of heavy winds, Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park has in large part been a breeze for golfers playing in the Web.com Tour’s Digital Ally Open this week.
Yet a course so ripe for scoring can be a double-edged sword. The opportunities to go low abound, evidenced by the four 9-under 62 rounds posted in the first two days — a score only 2 strokes off the course record.
But for those who can’t cash in on the conditions consistently, staying in contention can be tough.
“You knew the course was playing as easy as it could be,” said Peter Malnati, a Missouri grad who is currently second on the Web.com Tour money list. “It’s in great shape, but it’s just not playing difficult, and there’s no wind.”
The combination of wide fairways that make driving precision less crucial and soft greens, which allow players to take dead aim at the pin without worrying about bounces, has meant low scores across the leaderboard.
In a field of 156 golfers, 135 finished at even par or better. The necessary number to advance to the weekend’s third and fourth rounds became clear early on Friday.
Get to 6 under or kiss a payday goodbye.
Two players with local ties found their way to the cut line and beyond. Ryan Spears, a Wichita State grad, posted consecutive 4-under 67s and punched his ticket to the weekend at 8-under par, while Malnati made a birdie on the 17th to finish his opening 36 holes at 6 under.
A double-bogey on the 11th in Friday’s second round, though, was a little unsettling for Malnati.
“I didn’t even look at scores yesterday, and I knew it was going to be 6 under,” Malnati said of the cut line. “I wish it didn’t, but it weighs on my mind the first two days. If I’m not playing really well, the thought of going home early, it always stinks. I hate it. So that is a little bit of a weight that’s lifted on the weekend."
For Spears, who hit all 14 fairways on Friday, the opposite was true, even though he was at 6 under himself with two holes to play before finishing birdie, birdie.
His thoughts instead turned to how he can mount a charge to catch and surpass leading men Martin Piller and Shane Bertsch, who are each at 15-under 127 after shooting a pair of 9-under 62s on Friday.
“There’s room for improvement,” Spears said. “I did well (here) a couple years ago. I think I shot 63 on Saturday, so that’s what I'm looking forward to doing (Saturday) and trying to get back into it.”
Falling on the right side of the cut line was paramount for both Spears and Malnati, but for different reasons. Coming up short of the cut means no money, and the money list serves as the official tour ranking system.
If Spears wants to get his PGA Tour card, cashing at each of the final four regular season tournaments is likely required, as the top 25 money leaders automatically move up to golf’s top echelon.
Spears currently resides in 31st position.
For Malnati, who is already likely heading back to the PGA Tour, it’s about gaining ground on the Web.com’s No. 1 player, Patton Kizzire, who won’t add to his lead this weekend after missing the cut by 3 strokes.
“I’m going to be at the very, very bottom of the field of the guys that make the cut, so I’ve got a lot of room to climb,” Malnati said. “Obviously, I’d much rather be at the top, no doubt, but for your mindset it’s kind of sometimes good to be down at the bottom. … You can’t really fall lower than you are. You can only climb.”
Spears, who was upset by his 4-under 67 round on Thursday because he potentially left a much better score out on the course, also has an optimistic view of the weekend after “saving what was just a half-decent day” with a second straight 67 on Friday.
“Four under is not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not going to hurt you,” Spears said. “I'm excited about that and excited to finish well.
“The course is gettable as long as you stay hydrated and don’t pass out while you’re out there.”
Three other players with local ties missed the cut. Aaron Watkins, a Kansas State grad, finished 4 under; Harry Higgs, an Overland Park native and SMU grad, finished 2 under; and Zecharia Potter, a Wichita State grad, finished 5 over.
Web.com Tour’s Digital Ally Open
▪ WHEN: Today through Sunday. Gates open at 7 a.m.
▪ WHERE: Nicklaus Golf Course at LionsGate, at 143rd and Dearborn streets. General parking and a free shuttle to the course are available at the Blue Valley Recreation softball and baseball complex at 137th and Antioch. More information available at DigitalAllyOpen.org.
▪ TICKETS: $10 for a daily ticket. Admission is free for kids 14 and under.