By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
When the putts started falling, so did Mark Knecht’s score.
The Sunbelt Senior Tour newbie turned in the lowest round of the sixth annual Yellowhammer Open on Wednesday, using a 7-under 64 to bump his two-day total to 9-under and surge to the top of the leaderboard at the Chesley Oaks Golf Course.
Gary Rusnak started the second round with a three-shot lead but finished it facing a one-stroke deficit. He followed up a 6-under 65 with a 2-under 69 to remain hot on Knecht’s heels with just 18 holes left to play.
“You don’t shoot 64 if your short game isn’t good, and it was good today,” said Knecht, whose score was aided by a snazzy 40-yard chip-in for eagle on the par-5 14th hole. “All in all, everything worked pretty good today.”
The Day 2 leader was presented with plenty of birdie opportunities on Wednesday, and he took advantage of almost all of them. Knecht birdied six holes and carded the one eagle to counter a single bogey on the 17th hole.
With Rusnak just one shot back, and three other golfers — Tim Conley (6-under), Roger Rowland (4-under) and Javier Sanchez (4-under) — within five strokes, Knecht is fully aware he can’t rest on his laurels quite yet. He said his plan for today’s final round involves sticking to his game and trusting it’ll be enough to bring home the senior-division (47-55) title.
“I’m happy with that,” Knecht said of his razor-thin lead at the top. “I’d like it to be a bit more, but I’d rather be ahead than behind.”
Rusnak was pleased with his driving for a second straight day but felt his short stick was what made the difference in him dropping from first to second.
“I only made three birdies today, but I’ve only made one bogey in two days, which is good,” he said. “I’d just like to see a few more putts go in. That’d make me really happy.”
Rusnak’s mindset quickly had to shift from that of the hunted to one of a hunter following Wednesday’s round. Either way, he said he’ll only alter his gameplan if he’s still trailing as the tournament comes down to its final few holes.
“It just shows you you can’t just worry about the guys in your group,” Rusnak said. “Somebody can shoot a 64 behind you. You just have to go out and try to birdie almost every hole. That’s the mindset you’ve got to have.”
While the top of the leaderboard is fairly crowded in the senior division, John Ross left himself with a bit of breathing room in the race for the super-senior (55+) crown. He charged into the clubhouse with birdies on Nos. 16, 17 and 18 to cap off a 3-under 68 and increase his 36-hole score to 9-under.
Danny Edwards and Gary Odom both sit five shots back in second, while Ron Schroeder is in fourth at 3-under and Steve Novak fifth at 1-under.
“I guess today was just about patience,” Ross said. “I hit the ball almost as well as I did yesterday. The putts just weren’t going in.”
Ross’ round almost wound up one shot lower after an extremely long eagle attempt from about five feet off the edge of the par-5 18th green missed just right, leaving him with an easy tap-in for birdie.
“I was very thankful to have a kick-in, but when it’s that close, you want it to go in,” he said. “It just floated over the cup I guess.”
As far as his third-round strategy is concerned, Ross is sticking with the basics.
“I can’t control what anybody else does,” he said. “I just have to go out, do the best I can and hope it’s good enough. Anything can happen in golf. I’ve ssen it go both ways.”
Tee times for the senior division will once again start at 8:30 a.m. today with the super-seniors hitting the course shortly thereafter.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.