Aug 06, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Alex Cejka had toiled in 227 PGA Tour events before arriving in Verona this week for the Turning Stone Resort Championship, still in search of his first victory.
Of course, such a drought pales next to what Cejka has gone through in real life, including escape as a child from what was then Communist Czechoslovakia, fleeing with his family through Europe before settling in Germany.
Still, the golfing drought lingers – but it might not last much longer if Cejka keeps playing like he did for the first two days at Atunyote Golf Club.
Following up a bogey-free 66 on Thursday, Cejka ignored far more difficult conditions in Friday’s second round and put together a four-under-par 68 to seize sole possession of the lead by day’s end.
With a 10-under-par 134, Cejka leads first-round co-leader Rory Sabbatini and Chris Tidland by one shot, with six golfers – Robert Garrigus, Steve Elkington, Omar Uresti, John Mallinger, Woody Austin and Brian Davis – sitting three shots back.
Everyone in the field had to deal with a far different Atunyote than in Thursday’s sticky opening round. The main culprit was a fierce west wind, sustained at 15 miles per hour and gusting to 25, which drove up scores as a whole, but didn’t suppress them.
Cejka didn’t mind it. He played an uneven front nine and turned in even-par 36, but then took off with consecutive birdies on 10, 11 and 12, then added a fourth birdie on the tough 17th to come back home in 32.
Up to now, Cejka’s biggest golfing moment was leading the 2009 Players Championship after three rounds, only to sky to a 79 in the final round as Henrik Stenson passed him. He also finished fourth in the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, near Rochester, but barely made the cut in his two previous Turning Stone appearances.
Tidland, like Cejka, does not own a PGA Tour win, but a 69 on Friday (after he finished a pair of holes from his first round early in the morning) featured an incident that may prove crucial should he finish on top.
With a birdie streak at 10, 11 and 12 to match Cejka, Tidland had the lead at 11 under par when, on the brutal 13th hole, he pulled his approach into the water.
Tidland’s chip from the water’s edge finished 20 feet above the hole, leaving him with a scary downhill, downwind putt for bogey. Before he could mark it, though, Tidland’s ball caught a gust of wind and rolled down to five feet.
Relieved, Tidland made the bogey putt, and later said the break saved him at least one shot, and perhaps two. A more conventional bogey at 15 cost Tidland his share of the lead with Cejka, and he parred in.
As for Sabbatini, he again thought he left shots on the course during his 70. But the veteran made 10 straight pars and sank birdies on 16 and 18 to move right behind Cejka.
The cut fell at 142, two under par. In all, 72 players survived to the weekend, with 2009 runner-up Vaughn Taylor making it on the number, but Rocco Mediate falling one shot short.
Gavin Hall was doomed to miss the cut after his opening-round 78. But the 15-year-old amateur from Pittsford showed lots of heart by bouncing back with a second-round 71, at one point making three birdies in four holes.
Play starts Saturday at 7:40 a.m., in twosomes. As the last pairing, Cejka and Tidland go out at 12:55 p.m., just after Sabbatini and Garrigus, with Elkington and Austin making up the third-to-last pairing.
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