In six years as a member of the PGA Tour, John Mallinger has yet to finish on top. After two near flawless days to open the 2012 Frys.com Open, Mallinger might have his best shot yet.
Mallinger ran away from the field during Friday’s second round, carding a 9-under 62, to move from four shots back to a commanding four-shot lead entering the weekend.
Through 36 holes, Malinger is the only player in the field to not hit a bogey or worse. Instead, Malinger has scored 12 birdies and an eagle, which came Friday on the 15th hole.
It was the back-9, though, were Malinger really made his mark in Friday’s second round, shooting a 6-under 30. The 33-year-old struck four birdies and an eagle on his last nine holes to go from second overall to first.
After striking three birdies on the front-9 to start his round, Malinger sunk a long 24-foot putt to birdie the 11th hole. He continued that roll on the 12th hole – a 605-yard par 5 – with a birdie by two-putting on the green. Three holes later on the 15, Malinger took the lead, hitting a 275-yard shot off the tee and a long 225-foot approach shot to pull within 11 feet of hole.
“You’re just kind of playing and you end up with 62,” Mallinger said. “It’s just one of those days where everything just kind of clicks and you just roll with it.”
But as the tournament turns to the weekend, Mallinger’s goal of winning his first tournament is still a long way away.
“If I just keep staying in that process, keep doing what I’m doing – I can’t do anything against the field,” Mallinger said. “I can just play as well as I can. I would love to say it is something different, but it’s really not. It’s all just believing in yourself. Hopefully, I get the same good thoughts going into the weekend.”
Mallinger, who improved his score by nine shots, wasn’t the only golfer to make a run at the top and Day 1 leader Nick O’Hern. Coming from a distant 10th place, Billy Horschel took a first-hole bogey and held the lead after his early-morning round at 10-under. With birdies on five holes on the back-9, Horschel climbed from five shots behind to overtake O’Hern by one stroke. By the end of the day, O’Hern ended tied for 4th, as Horschel climbed to a second-place tie with Jhonattan Vegas.
Vegas, who finished the first round three shots behind at 6-under, birdied four holes on the back-9 to pull even with Horschel near the top of the leaderboard.
Horschel’s move up the leaderboard started with back-to-back birdies to finish his front-9 at 1-over par, but it was a bunker shot on the ninth hole that sent him into a strong finish. Horschel’s second shot on the long 555-yard par-5 sent him into the right-side bunker. The following chip shot, though, rolled within a foot of the hole for an easy birdie shot.
“Luckily enough, I had a downslope in the bunker so it made it easier to play a little chunk and run,” he said. “Obviously, just trying to get it within five, six feet. Obviously, a little tap-in is a good shot.”
With last year’s top-10 fresh in his mind, Horschel’s confidence only grew from there, he said.
“I think it’s more or less playing last year here,” he said. “It gives me a little more confidence. And playing well too … That gives you more confidence coming into this week.”
With birdies on 17 and 18, Horschel took the temporary lead less than an hour after O’Hern finished in a tie with Nicholas Colsaerts.
“I’m just going to play golf,” he said. “I can’t do anything but that. I just need to keep control of my emotion and I’ll be just find.”
Vegas stayed tied at second place after temporarily taking over at first in the early afternoon. Vegas balanced seven birdies with three bogeys to stay within striking distance of the leader.
“That’s why we came here,” Vegas said. “I’m playing great, so hopefully we can keep it up for two more days.”
O’Hern, the leader entering the day, couldn’t find the same success he had in Thursday’s rain, he said. Instead, O’Hern settled for a round that included only two birdies and a pair of bogeys. His problems started at the tee, where he struggled with distance to finish among the shortest tee shots in the field.
The short approach gave O’Hern longer shots on the green, making it difficult to sustain Thursday’s low score, he said.
“Yesterday, I hit it close all day and made everything I looked at,” O’Hern said. “Today, I putted basically the same but just got to hit it closer.”
Meanwhile, Colsaerts, who is attempting to earn a PGA Tour card after a strong finish at last month’s Ryder Cup, continued to play well, carding a 3-under par Friday to finish the first two rounds at 9-under. Colsaerts started the day strong on the back-9, knocking in back-to-back birdies on the 10th and 11th holes. He finished with five total birdies and two bogeys in the round.
“I know I’m playing well,” he said. “I just got to make sure that when I have little hiccups I stay patient. I keep telling myself hat I’m going to give myself a lot of chances, so there is not (a) reason to get excited. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing the last couple of months.”
Jonas Blixt also continued his strong tournament, finishing at 8-under after two days. Frank Lickliter, a late entry to the field after an injury to Fredrik Jacobson, finished 7-under to go from the edge of the cut to finish tied in ninth place. Lickliter hit nine birdies on the day to enter the top 10.
Overall, 72 players finished the first two days at 1-under to make the cut for the weekend. Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera finished tied for 44th, finishing the first two rounds at 3-under. Last year’s champion Bryce Molder ended the first two round tied for 30th, carding a 4-under. Vijay Singh stayed within striking distance, finishing the first two rounds at 6-under.
Mallinger, Horschel and Vegas will tee off at 11 a.m. Saturday on the first hole.