Reno-Tahoe Open: Past champions rise to top of leaderboard

Steve Puterski/Lahontan Valley news

Steve Puterski/Lahontan Valley news

RENO - If you are a follower of the Reno-Tahoe Open, the leaderboard on Friday was jammed with some familiar names.

Five past champions - Vaughn Taylor, Will MacKenzie, Steve Flesch, Notah Begay and Chris Riley - are all in contention after two trips around the picturesque Montreux Golf & Country Club.

Taylor, who won in 2004 and 2005, shot a second-round 66 to take the 36-hole lead at 135. The 36-hole leader has won six times in the previous 12 RTOs, including the last four.

In second place one stroke back is 2006 champion Will MacKenzie (69-136).

Another stroke back at 137 are Hunter Haas (67), 2007 champion Steve Flesch (69) and first-round leader Nick O'Hern.

There is a logjam at 138 with 1999 champion Notah Begay III (67), Steve Elkington (65), Robert Garrigus (70), Michael Thompson (68), 2002 champ Chris Riley (72), Jay Williamson (70), Roland Thatcher (67) and Rod Pampling (70). There are seven players at 139, led by Garrett Willis (66).

Taylor admitted that course knowledge is critical.

"I think it's a combination of things," said the two-time champion. "Obviously the course has to fit your eye, and then the altitude is definitely an adjustment. I think anywhere you play well and come back there are a lot of good memories and feelings, and you know it can turn things around for you."

" I think it's those little idiosyncrasies, like, 'Yeah, this putt is just historically fast or this putt don't go away from Mount Rose quite as much or this putt does go away from Mount Rose harder than you think,'" MacKenzie said. "And just trusting yardages; trusting you're hitting 7-iron downhill on No. 9 - or 18 now rather - from 230."

Taylor started fast, holing a bunker shot for a birdie on No. 1, and then dropping in a 26-footer for birdie on No. 2. He racked up eight straight pars, before draining in a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 11.

"I was hitting a lot of good shots, but just couldn't get a putt to go down," Taylor said. "I finally did on 11. It kind of got me going again."

Taylor jumped to 8-under on No. 13 with an eagle which tied him for the lead with Flesch at the time.

"I hit a perfect drive down there," Taylor said. "I kid of had trouble picking a club. The wind was really changing around. I finally went with a 5-iron and hit a really, really good shot. I think it landed perfectly on the fringe. It ended up 3 or 4 feet from the hole."

Taylor added a final birdie on No. 14 and parred in the rest of the way.

MacKenzie started on No. 10, and birdied to go 6-under-par. He strung together four pars before draining a 24-footer for birdie on the par-4 15th.

He gave a shot back with a bogey on No. 17, but got back to 7-under with a birdie on No. 18. He bogeyed No. 1 after hitting his second shot in the bunker to fall back to 6-under, and he finished his round with birdies on Nos. 2 and 6.

"Today could have been a good day as far as I could have shot a lot better," MacKenzie said. "I just kind of struggled with my putter.

"I hit one real errant shot that cost me. I hit it into the water on No. 8. Other than that I was pretty solid. I had some good looks, and just wasn't able to capitalize."

Flesch, who has struggled the last few years, had it up to 9-under at one point but bogeyed two of his last three holes.

"It was actually fun to see my name up there," said the left-handed Flesch. "I didn't finish very well. I made a decent swing on the last hole and ended up making bogey.

"But it's fun to be back in contention. I haven't been in contention really in a couple of years."

Haas said the key to his round were his approach shots. He registered birdies at Nos. 2,7,8,9,13, 14 and 18. His only bogeys came on the par-4 12th and the par-5 17th.

"I' hitting the ball real well and I'm driving the ball well," Haas said. "I'm building some confidence the last few weeks. I took a week off and played better than what I scored last week.

"It's a matter of getting my distances dialed in because it was kind of different. This morning was a little cooler than yesterday, and the ball was going so far it was ridiculous. It makes the round a little easier when you are hitting good approach shots ."

Thompson appeared well on his way to being the 36-hole leader until he took a double-bogey on No. 8, his 17th hole. which dropped him to 5-under-par. He managed to birdie the 18th to get back to 6-under-par and a 68 for the day.

"I had a great day," Thompson said. "Two bad holes; both par-5s unfortunately, If I had played both of those holes even part I would be 9-under right now. Obviously finishing on a birdie is a positive note, so keep it going tomorrow.

"I'm just going to stick with my game plan. I feel real comfortable out there. I'm starting to get use to how far the ball is flying. There are a lot of calculations you have to make on each shot." Thompson will draw on the experience of leading the Candian Open for two days to help him today and Sunday.

"I feel ready to go," Thompson said. "After the experience of the Canadian Open being in the lead for two days, that was a big learning experience. Now I'm more prepared. I just have to go out tomorrow (Saturday) and see how I do."

Elkington put on a show in his last nine holes with five birdies to get to 6-under-par.

Starting on No. 10, Elkington parred his first two holes before getting back to even par with a birdie on the par-4 12th. He followed that with a birdie on the par-5 13th to get to red numbers at 1-under. He parred the last five holes on his front side to make the turn at 2-under-par 34, setting the stage for torrid final nine holes.

The 48-year-old Elkington who has won 10 times on the PGA Tour, canned a 14-footer for birdie on No. 1. He followed that up with a 6-footer on No. 2. After pars at Nos. 3,4 and 5, the veteran knocked in an 18-footer at No. 6.

On the par-5 8th, he chipped from 40 yards to 2 feet and made the putt, and then knocked in a 3-footer on No. 9 to finish his round.

Elkington, like others in the field noticed a difference between morning and afternoon play.

"I told my wife I thought it was pretty tough on Thursday," he said. "I was pretty pleased with being 1-over. The greens got really firm. On the greens I've got just enough loft to where you hit it out and it just wants to scoot away from you.

"Today was a totally different deal. You know, the cool weather and you could make the ball stop and play to different spots on the green."


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