Wichita, Kan. – Local favorite Aaron Watkins (pictured by Getty Images) carded a 4-under par 66 on Friday morning and is 11-under 129 after the second round of the Air Capital Classic presented by aetna. The Kansas State alum has a two-stroke advantage over Tom Gillis (65), Sam Saunders (66) and Denmark’s Sebastian Cappelen (65).
Three back but still very much in it heading into the weekend are Andres Gonzales (67), Rob Oppenheim (63), Jeff Gove (64) and Blayne Barber (67).
Watkins has recorded only one bogey at Crestview Country Club, which came at No. 18 in the second round, through 36 holes this week. Watkins has admittedly struggled this season but has started to turn things around with his best finish, a T14, coming two weeks ago at the Cleveland Open. The 31-year-old pro is poised to get his game headed in the right direction and is using this week in Wichita as a springboard.
“I’m very comfortable out here,” he said. “If I have the confidence, then I can just kind of ride it out.”
Watkins has been impressive on the greens where he recorded 26 putts in the second round. The Arizona resident is driving the ball well which has allowed him to be aggressive with approaches into the greens through the first 36 holes. As the conditions get tougher heading into the weekend low scores are going to be harder to come by. Watkins’ strategy is simple, maintain the resolve he has shown the first two days and take it one shot at a time.
“You can’t really think you have to get to a certain number,” he said. “You just got to take it hole-by-hole and take advantage, especially on the back nine.”
Gillis has been rolling the ball well this week. He has 51 putts through the first 36 holes which places him tied for second in putting with Watkins. The Michigan native is comfortable with the lines because the grass, A1-A4 creeping bent grass, is the same surface that he grew up playing on.
“The greens are similar to what I putt on at home,” he said. “It’s a nice golf course; it’s a joy to play.”
Saunders loves his position after the second round. The former Clemson Tiger will be in the second to last group on Saturday. Normally a player gets tentative when they are near the lead on the weekend but Saunders is different. He believes there is more pressure trying to make a cut than there is being in contention to win a golf tournament.
“I feel very comfortable where I am right now,” he said. “When I’m up near the lead I feel confident to just swing away and let it go.”
Cappelen is making his pro debut this week and has risen to the challenges that Crestview CC has provided the first 36 holes. The 24-year-old just finished his senior season of golf at the University of Arkansas and can see similarities between the way courses are set up in college and at a professional event.
“I feel like college is a really good start to a pro career,” he said. “We played a lot of hard golf courses in college.”
SECOND ROUND NOTES:
* Friday weather: Mostly sunny. Wind SSW 10-15 mph. Daytime high 92F.
* This is the first 36-hole lead of Aaron Watkins’ career on the Web.com Tour. Coming into this week, Watkins has never held the lead after any round on Tour.
* Watkins looks to draw on past experiences at Crestview CC on Saturday. His third round scoring average at this event is 67.80 in six previous starts.
* Tom Gillis was one shot back at the Cleveland Open after 36 holes and posted a 74 in the third round, he finished T31.
* Gillis third round scoring average this year on Tour is 71.14.
“I really don’t have many expectations now after what happened there,” he said. “So I’m just going to go play and see what happens.”
* Sebastian Cappelen is making his pro debut this week. He recently graduated from the University of Arkansas where he was a four time All-American. Cappelen recorded three wins while in college including the individual title at the 2013 SEC Championships.
* Cappelen’s round in detail: 12 of 14 fairways, 16 of 18 greens, 1 of 1 sand saves, 30 putts.
* Cappelen has recorded eight birdies and no bogeys on the back nine so far this week.
* Cappelen posted a 71 in the qualifier held at Auburn Hills Golf Club on Monday.
“I felt like I was playing good on Monday. After getting in I felt like I had a good feeling and I know where my game was. So all I had to do was go hit the ball and I felt like I was going to be in a good comfortable spot.”
* Rob Oppenheim tied the low round of the day with a bogey-free 63 Friday morning. Oppenheim hasn’t gone that deep on Tour since the Cox Classic in 2010 where he posted a 61 in the second round.
* Oppenheim’s round in detail: 8 of 14 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 1 of 1 sand saves, 26 putts.
* Crestview CC has to be a nice change of pace for Oppenheim who teed it up at the U.S. Open last week at Pinehurst No. 2. Oppenheim carded 75-77 and missed the 36-hole cut in his first major championship appearance.
* With a third round scoring average of 68.00 in five previous starts at this event, Oppenheim looks to catch the leaders and position himself for a chance on Sunday to earn his first victory on Tour.
“This is a course that I’ve always enjoyed coming to. The wind is a big factor here. You need to learn how to hit that low shot and stay in the fairway because the rough is pretty thick. If you’re in the fairway you’ve got a lot of wedges and can attack the course.”
* Blayne Barber bogeyed his final two holes of the day and is three off the lead.
* Saturday is known as moving day on Tour and Barber has certainly taken advantage with a third round scoring average of 68.13 this season.
* Zack Sucher tied the tournament record for low nine-hole score with a 29 on the back nine, his first nine of the day. Sucher made five birdies in a row beginning at No. 14. He posted 63 and is currently 5-under par through 36 holes.
* Jorge Fernandez-Valdez was in danger of missing the cut through 13 holes in his second round. After a bogey on No. 13 Fernandez-Valdez was two-over but quickly bounced back going eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie over his next four holes. He posted a 67 and is three-under par heading into the weekend.
* There are five past champions in the field this week. Here are their current results:
Brad Elder (1999, 2007) – 64-70—134 (T14)
Jeff Klauk (2003) – 71-68—139 (CUT)
Mathew Goggin (2011) – 74-72—146 (CUT)
Casey Wittenberg (2012) – 71-67—138 (T50)
Scott Parel (2013) – 67-70—137 (T40)
* Bogey-free rounds this week:
RD1 – Aaron Watkins (63), Gavin Coles (64), Blayne Barber (65), Andres Gonzales (65), Jimmy Gunn (67), Steven Alker (68), Kyle Stough (69)
RD2 – Rob Oppenheim (63), Jeff Gove (64), Matt Weibring (65), Oscar Frautro (66), Nick Rousey (66), Chris Baker (67), Jose de Jesus Rodriguez (67)
* Scoring averages for the week:
Front (35) Back (35) Total (70)
R1 35.244 34.891 70.135
R2 34.885 34.647 69.532
NEXT WEEK: The Web.com Tour travels to Evansville, Ind. for the United Leasing Championship presented by PTI at Victoria National Golf Club June 23-30. In a Monday finish, Ben Martin earned his first career title in a playoff victory over Ashley Hall, Billy Hurley and Joe Affrunti when he two-putted the first extra hole for par.
1. Aaron Watkins 129 (-11)
T2.Tom Gillis 131 (-9)
T2.Sebastian Cappelen 131 (-9)
T2.Sam Saunders 131 (-9)
T5.Andres Gonzales 132 (-8)
T5.Rob Oppenheim 132 (-8)
T5.Jeff Gove 132 (-8)
T5.Blayne Barber 132 (-8)
Source: PGA Tour