Throwback Thursday gave way to Familiar Face Friday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, with more turn-of-the-century standouts stepping up to seize the second-round spotlight after years of dormancy at PGA Tour events.
The latest round of resurgent Nelson contenders includes Mike Weir, 44, and Retief Goosen, 45. Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, and Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champ (2001, 2004), secured late tee times in Saturday’s third round at the Four Seasons Resort by combining to bag 10 birdies and one bogey in pristine scoring conditions Friday.
Weir, the No. 609 player in the world rankings, fired a 66 and moved within two strokes of the lead at 6 under par. Goosen, ranked No. 211, posted a bogey-free 65 and climbed to 5 under, three strokes behind leader Brendon Todd.
The yesteryear standouts seeking to become Sunday’s champion at the TPC course inherited the torch lit Thursday by David Duval, who has fallen 889 spots since he topped the world rankings in the 1999 season. Duval, 42, opened with a sizzling 66 before backtracking with a second-round 76 to miss the cut.
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But he departed on a day when several of his 40-something cronies, as well as 36-year-old Paul Casey, unleashed enough birdie barrages to make Nelson fans double-check their calendars.
For the record: Yes, this is 2014, not 2004. Dallas residents Jordan Spieth, 20, and Scottie Scheffler, 17, remain in the weekend mix and have drawn some of the biggest galleries of tournament week.
But lots of old dogs are howling at the Nelson, with Tim Herron (44) and Padraig Harrington (42) among the front-runners positioned to make weekend charges that would erase multi-year victory droughts at PGA Tour events. Theories abound as to why this is happening.
“Maybe we have Byron’s spirit with us, the ‘old boys’ dragging him around a little bit,” Goosen said, dropping the name of the late tournament namesake from Roanoke.
Weir, who joked that he’d “forgotten what it looks like” inside the media center at a PGA Tour event, offered a different explanation. He surmised that short games are crucial at the TPC layout, which features lots of undulated greens that cause golfers to scramble for pars after errant approach shots.
“Padraig has a great short game, and I think that short game is number one around this course,” Weir said. “You have to be creative around the greens.”
That requires experience, which the elder statesmen on the Nelson leader board have in abundance. Even if Harrington, a three-time major champion, is quick to point out that he is not as “experienced” as either Weir or Goosen.
“I’m not as old as them! I’m not!,” Harrington said, pleading his case after a four-birdie, one double-bogey round left him at 4-under through 36 holes. “But this is not a straightforward course. So maybe a bit of experience doesn’t do you any harm out here.”
Neither does firing the lowest nine-hole score in tournament history. Casey, winless on the PGA Tour since his triumph at the 2009 Shell Houston Open, accomplished that in his second career Nelson round.
Casey, No. 95 in the world rankings (after topping out at No. 3 in 2009), collected six birdies and an eagle in Friday’s back-nine 27. The 27 tied the record for lowest back-nine score in tour history.
“The seal was broken when I got to No. 10 and it spiraled from there,” said Casey, who was hovering below the cut line until his back-nine surge.
“I had no concept of score. I was backed into a corner and had to do something to guarantee I was playing the weekend. I was into every single shot and I was in the moment.”
Heading into the weekend, Casey is thinking about his first tour triumph in five years. Goosen, likewise, is riding a five-year winless streak at tour events. The droughts are longer for Harrington (six years), Weir (seven years) and Herron (eight years), who last prevailed at the 2006 Colonial but joins Casey and Weir at 6 under.
Morgan Hoffmann, a former Oklahoma State golfer in the eight-player group at 6 under, considers himself in select company heading into the weekend rounds because of the notable names surrounding his on the Nelson leader board.
“It’s really cool seeing my name with them,” Hoffmann said. “I grew up watching them.”
Weir winced when informed of that comment. But he also smiled.
“It’s nice to get myself back into this position,” Weir said. “It’s been tough. It’s been difficult to play and not be in contention. It’s tough when you’re missing a lot of cuts and you’re on the road. There were plenty of times I was down and maybe wondering what I was going to do next.”
For once, Weir knows what comes next in a Saturday round at a PGA Tour event: a chance to contend for a championship. Along with several fellow tour standouts from yesteryear.