RW Eaks aces way in to the lead
R.W. Eaks isn't bothered by the sound of his ball striking wood off the tee -- even though he uses a metal driver.
With his drives ricocheting harmlessly off tree after tree, Eaks had an eagle, a hole-in-one and birdied five of his final 10 holes Saturday, smiling all the way en route to a career-low 62 to surge into the second-round lead at the inaugural Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
"I just go ahead and hit it, and if it hits the trees, hopefully it'll bounce back in the fairway," said Eaks, who never finished higher than seventh in a PGA Tour event in 77 tries over a 12-year span and is winless in six seasons on the Champions Tour. "That's how I play."
Eaks finished one shot off the En-Joie Golf Club course record held by Fred Funk, Hal Sutton and Robert Gamez, and was at 11-under 133. That was one shot ahead of Monday qualifier and Champions Tour rookie Bruce Vaughan (64) and two shots ahead of Scott Hoch (66).
Craig Stadler (67), who shared the first-round lead with Hoch and Monday qualifier Rod Spittle (72), was alone in fourth, three shots off the lead.
The 55-year-old Eaks, a self-taught golfer, hit at least five trees and still made all 18 greens in regulation, a nice rebound for a guy who finished last week's U.S. Senior Open at 18 over after a closing 84.
A day after the leaders broke par by only three strokes over the narrow course, which still is recovering from a devastating flood a year ago, Eaks took advantage of excellent scoring conditions helped by a thunderstorm that drenched the course right after first-round play ended Friday.
Eaks began play just two shots off the lead, and after narrowly missing birdie tries on his first two holes quickly challenged for the top spot. He chipped in from 45 feet for eagle at the par-5 third hole and hit 5-iron 193 yards off the seventh tee that hit the green and made a beeline for the cup.
"That was one of the best shots I've ever hit," said Eaks, who has finished second three times this year. "It just rolled like a putt right in the hole."
Eaks finished with three straight birdies, including a 20-foot putt that broke twice at No. 17, to remain ahead.
Vaughan, who tied for 16th at last week's U.S. Senior Open and has earned over $130,000 in six events, had three birdies on the front nine and five on the back side, nearly holing a pitching wedge at 18 for a share of the lead.
"Guys were going low. I was playing pretty good and I wasn't gaining any ground," said Vaughan, who like Eaks did not make a bogey. "I had to just keep making birdies."
Hoch played the front nine at only 1 under before making five birdies on his final seven holes.
"Early on, I didn't make anything," Hoch said. "It did help at the end to give myself a chance tomorrow. But it's got to be for 18 holes."
Stadler birdied No. 3 to go to 4 under and briefly took sole possession of the lead with an eagle at the par-5 fifth hole. Stadler drove the middle of the fairway and hit his second shot over the five bunkers that guard the front of the green to within 8 feet of the pin and moments later calmly drained the putt.
He followed that with another birdie at the par-5 eighth, blasting out of a greenside bunker to within 7 feet of the cup and nearly made another birdie on the next hole. But for the second straight day, his putt stopped at the lip of the cup and stayed out, and he parred the final nine holes.
Because scattered thunderstorms were predicted until early evening on Sunday, tournament officials opted to begin the final round off both the first and 10th tees. Although Hoch liked his chances, he said he wasn't surprised at the players above him on the leaderboard.
"None of this is unexpected the way they've been playing," Hoch said. "It's not as if they're a shot in the dark. They've both been playing really well this year."