It’s been a long time since Andrew Buckle has been in contention for a tournament, but that’s precisely the position he finds himself in after shooting a 7-under par 65 in Saturday’s second round of the Navajo Trail Open at Hillcrest Golf Course.
Buckle, originally from Brisbane, Australia, but now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, is tied for the lead with Benoit Beisser, who shot a 5-under and finished with a 36-hole score of 134. Wil Collins and Sam Saunders are tied for second place and sit just one shot back of Beisser and Buckle.
“I played good and solid today, every part of my game was good and just added them up at the end and was 6-under, so it was nice,” Buckle said. “It was a bit windier yesterday because I played in the afternoon, and the wind didn’t start blowing hard until the final hole, that was pretty crazy.”
Buckle, who is competing in his third Navajo Trail Open, said that this is his first time being in contention heading into the final round in a number of years after having two surgeries on his elbow.
“I lost some feeling in my left hand and it set me back a bit, so I haven’t played much golf, but it feels good now and it’s not really an issue now,” Buckle said. “There hasn’t been much golf to speak of to be perfectly honest, and this is my second tournament for the year. It feels really nice to be playing well at the moment and I am just hoping to continue playing strong tomorrow.”
He showed no signs of pain as he made four birdies, on Nos. 10, 3, 5 and 7 and also eagled No. 17.
The pros teed off early on Saturday, which was bathed in sunshine, but conditions rapidly deteriorated as an afternoon storm rolled in just as most groups were coming in to finish the round. On Buckle’s final hole, gusts whipped up and the conditions played as much of a factor as it did on Friday, to go along with fast greens and thick rough.
Beisser got his round off to a good start by making an eagle on the opening No. 10, and would go on to add five birdies on the day to offset two bogeys.
“To be honest, I just made two more puts than yesterday, I’ve been playing pretty steady golf and really got off to a good start there,” Beisser said. “Getting an eagle on No. 10 was a nice little way to start my day. I knew I had hit a smooth iron shot and then was able to put it in from six or seven feet away. The greens were fast, but overall, the course and conditions were really in good shape. It’s all you can handle out there with how fast the greens are moving, but I’ve been coming up here for a few years now and this is the best it’s been.”
Saunders, the leader after 18 holes, added three strokes back on to his score as he shot a 3-under 69 on Saturday after he had posted a 66 after the first round. Collins shot a 3-under par 68 on Saturday after a 4-under on Friday. Certain holes posed problems, including a strong par-3 No. 5, but others were generous. On the par-3 sixth hole both Jamie Boyd and Doug Rohrbaugh chipped in from over 25 yards, while Steve Schneiter had a massive drive that set up perfectly for a five-foot birdie put. Rohrbaugh was able to get up and down with his putting, as he finished with a 4-under 67 and had 11 one-putts.
Hillcrest head pro Michael McCloskey said that conditions improved again from Friday and as a result, the scoring remained impressive.
“The pros went out early and got the fresh golf course as opposed to yesterday when it was switched,” McCloskey said. “Scoring conditions continued to remain out and up there, and I think course set up was a little bit easier today. Obviously, after yesterday, it showed its teeth, and it played tough again. A 65 was the low today after it was a 66 from Sam Saunders yesterday, so it’s really fun to watch these pros go low.”
Durango’s Tommy Kalinowski fired a 2-under par and heads into Sunday with a two-day total of 144, while his brother, Bobby, shot 5-over and is at 149. Shea Sena fired a 2-over 73 and is at 148 and Cortez’s Micah Rudosky shot 4-over 75 and is at 146.
In the afternoon session, weather played a sizable factor as wind, rain and lightning came down at Hillcrest. The third and fourth flight players were impacted, as they had to deal with a 25-minute rain storm, which they played through, but then were pulled off the course for a 45-minute lightning delay.
On Sunday, McCloskey said that pin locations will be much tighter and players will have to be precise with their shots.
“It’s going to be a tight race tomorrow, and they’ll tee off last, so it’ll be around 2:30 or so for the final few groups,” McCloskey said. “It’ll be the test of conditions tomorrow with this rain and wind, but certainly having a tight field, not only in the top-four, but really, the top-10, it’s anyone’s game. This course can lead to a really low number if somebody gets hot, or, obviously, it can penalize you and low scores can go high an a matter of a hole or two. Not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, it should be an exciting day for all of our professionals to finish.”