Shakes of the head. Groans. Putter flips.
There were plenty of ways to express frustration Saturday, particularly with the slope-heavy greens at Hillcrest Golf Club.
But there were a growing number of fist pumps and smiles by the end of Round 2 of the Navajo Trail Open, too, perhaps moreso than Friday, when the pros tackled the stronger afternoon winds. It was enough, at least, to set up what could be another compelling final round on Sunday.
Ryan Hogue’s 67 put him atop the leaderboard with a 5-under 137 after 36 holes in the 52nd edition of the Navajo Trail Open. But he’s far from alone: Nine golfers are within four shots of Hogue’s pace entering today’s final round.
Despite Saturday’s 3-under round, Hogue said he’s not satisfied with his putting quite yet at Hillcrest. Still, he made only one bogey and chipped in from off the green on the 8th hole, hitting numerous greens in regulation in the process, which allowed him to at least two-putt for par, even if some of his birdie opportunities weren’t dropping to his satisfaction.
“It’s just hard to putt out here,” Hogue said. “I mean, the greens are slopey, and some of the downhills can get a little sneaky-fast.
“I might be the leader in the clubhouse right now, but I missed a lot of short putts. ... I hit a lot of greens in regulation, so I gave myself a lot of chances for birdie. I didn’t make many, but I only made one bogey.”
Jimmy Gunn echoed the same senitment. Gunn, a member of the All-American Gateway Tour and Scotland native, is tied for second with Blayne Hobbs at 138 after firing a 68 on Saturday, a feat he credited to his length off the tee and ability to hit greens in regulation.
“If I don’t hit it within four feet, I’m missing it,” Gunn said, self-depricatingly. “But I’m just not making any bogeys. I made two bogeys.”
Gunn and Hobbs, who shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday, played in the same group as another player within four strokes of the lead, Chris Dompier. Dompier shot a 68 of his own to finish with a 36-hole total of 141 to put him in a tie at 141 with Zahkai Brown and Alex Estrada.
Hobbs said playing in a foursome – Chad Brundy was the final member – that played so strong may have helped spurred their strong scores Saturday.
“When people are playing better, you see better shots. And when you start to see the ball go in, I think you get a little momentum. And it’s the same way if everybody’s playing horrible – momentum goes back,” Hobbs said.
Devin Schreiner fired a 3-under 68 for a 3-under 139 after 36 holes, a feat matched by Jeff Berkshire, who also sits two shots off the lead.
Former champion Tom Kalinowski is lurking three shots off the pace at 140 after shooting matching 70s in the first two rounds, and he’s tied with Jeff Roth, a former qualifier for the Senior PGA Championship.
Justin Lyons is the low amateur at 143.
The return to afternoon tee times today should make for challenging golf as the winds tend to wreak more havoc on shots the later the day gets. Add that to the greens, potentially tricky pin placements and a tight leaderboard, and the NTO could be in for another tight conclusion.
“Because it’s not a long course, it makes you think that you should shoot a really low score,” Hogue said. “But, as you can see from past results, that’s just not the case.
“When you combine these slopey greens with a little bit of wind, some tough pin placements, it’s a lot harder course than people give it credit for, I think.”