NAPA, Calif. — During his three-week offseason, Brendan Steele spent more time playing golf than practicing. That included some casual rounds with his buddies in which Steele was the one reaching of his wallet.
Not to worry. He figures to get that back and more — a lot more — after a steady round of 2-under 70 to take a two-shot lead into the weekend at the Frys.com Open.
"I’m sure they were happy to see that they can take my money, and then I can come out here and play well," he said.
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The odds were stacked against him. These were PGA Tour players he was facing back home, so Steele had to give them strokes. He gave 18 shots to one of his friends, 14 to another, 13 to the third, and it was match play with Steele playing Shady Canyon from the tips and his buddies two tees forward.
It wasn’t a fair fight.
"It’s a rough game for me," he said.
That certainly doesn’t mean the weekend at Silverado is going to be a breeze. Steele seized control with a 63 in the opening round that tied the North course record. And while he was seven shots worse on Friday, it was like that for a lot of players.
The weather has been warm and sunny, so the course is getting more firm and fast and harder to control loose tee shots. The greens are particularly firm, as Steele found out on the 15th hole when his shot landed a foot from the hole and bounced over the back.
"I don’t expect to see anymore 63s out there, which can play to my advantage, I think," Steele said.
The weekend really is just the start at Silverado:
THE LEADER: Steele was at 11-under 133, a score he probably would have taken at the start of Friday, though he had higher hopes when he began the back nine with two birdies in three holes. That not only put him at 12 under, he knew the three-hole finish was a par 5, a short par 4 and another par 5. Plus, he made birdie on the final five holes of his opening round. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
He missed the 16th green with a wedge and made par. His tee shot landed in a divot in the fairway and he couldn’t get his wedge much closer than 35 feet. Another par. And then he missed the fairway to the left, laid up in the rough, missed the green with a wedge and had to settle for another par.
At least they weren’t bogeys.
THE CHASERS: Will Wilcox didn’t make a bogey in his round of 67. Jhonattan Vegas didn’t make a bogey until his last hole, the par-5 ninth, when he three-putted from 15 feet. He shot a 71. Graham DeLaet of Canada shot 33 on the back nine for a 68.
Joining them in a tie for second at 9-under 135 was Harold Varner III, who only seemed to make a rookie mistake. He knew what he was doing.
Varner, his debut as a PGA Tour member, had a 10-foot birdie putt on his final hole that would have put him in the final group for Saturday. It was dark. It was hard to read the line. He chose to finish the hole instead of returning first thing Saturday morning. He missed it for a 70.
"Six hours of sleep is way more important than one putt, I think," Varner said. "I’m staying in American Canyon. It says it’s 25 minutes, but it’s yet to take me 25 minutes to get back. I’m going to get it tomorrow. I’m pretty excited."
THE PUTTER: From tee-to-green, Rory McIlroy feels as though he should be close to the lead instead of six shots behind.
On the putting green, not so much.
McIlroy’s only two birdies in his round of 71 were on par 5s when he was putting for eagle. He twice had birdie putts from 5 feet or in and missed them badly. And he lost track of the number of chances from the 12-foot range.
"I think it’s more mental than anything else," McIlroy said. "Whenever you don’t see anything go in, it makes it harder and harder each and every hole that goes by. … I don’t expect to hole everything, but I expect to hole more than I am at the moment."
THE CUT: Brandt Snedeker finished with two straight birdies to make the cut on the number at 2-under 142.
He’s not out of the woods, yet.
Because more than 78 players made the cut — 81 to be specific — there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday to the top 70 professionals and ties.