With winds blowing steadily at 25 miles per hour and gusting to 35 at times Saturday didn’t figure to be a good day for scoring at the Rust-Oleum Championship. A couple players apparently didn’t get that memo, however.
Alexandre Rocha, who started the day in a tie for 52nd place, shot an 8-under-par 64 and climbed all the way up to a tie for second in the $600,000 Web.com Tour event at Ivanhoe Club.
Stephan Jaeger teed off just as Rocha was holing his final birdie putt on the 18th green, and he found a way to score, too. Posting a 68, Jaeger wound up the only player ahead of Rocha entering today’s final round.
Rocha, a 39-year old from Brazil who played collegiately at Mississippi State, had been struggling with his game. His frustrations spilled out in an interestingly worded Tweet on Friday night.
“I really need to get the good and evil voices inside my head to work in a bipartisan way so we can all achieve some success,’’ he tweeted.
After completing his hot round on Saturday he said the Tweet was just a joke, but admitted “I’ve been playing well but my mind gets in the way.’’
Not much got in the way on Saturday as Rocha hit the flagstick twice, the ball dropping for eagle on one at No. 14. He also made six birdies in getting within one stroke of the course record.
“Doing 8-under is fantastic. That’s really golfing your ball,’’ said the 28-year old Jaeger, who was born in Germany and played collegiately at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
As impressive as Rocha’s round was, Jaeger still takes a four-stroke lead into Sunday’s final 18. Rocha is tied with Andrew Landry, Jaeger’s playing partner on Saturday, and Ted Potter Jr.
Wind or no wind, Jaeger will be tough to beat. He’s the first player to shoot 58 in a PGA-sanctioned event, having gone 12-under en route to winning the Ellie May Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif., last year. He had just conditional status on the Web.com Tour then. That 58 was later matched by Jim Furyk in a PGA Tour event.
Now Jaeger’s magic might be coming back. He won the BMW Charity Pro-am three weeks ago in Greenville, S.C., then opened the next tournament — the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C. –, with a 65. He faded to a tie for 60th place in the next three rounds but bounced back in Monday’s 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier to earn a spot in next week’s major event at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills.
The good play has carried over to Ivanhoe, where Jaeger was a solid 68-67-68 in the first three rounds. His mother flew directly to Chicago from Germany after learning Jaeger had qualified for the U.S. Open. She was also on hand when he shot the record 58 and has seen all three rounds at Ivanhoe.
Saturday’s was highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 ninth, Jaeger hitting a 6-iron second shot to seven feet. His short game kept him in the lead after that, as he played the back nine in even par despite hitting only two greens in regulation. He was the only player in the last nine groups to better par in Saturday’s windy conditions.
“Weather like that made for a very, very tough round of golf,’’ he said. “It get funky out there. It’s such a grind, so tiring. I don’t think anybody’s comfortable playing in the wind. We’ve just got to learn how to play in it.’’
Thirteen-under-par was good enough to win the first Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe last year, and champion Max Homa came from seven strokes back in the final 18 holes to win. Homa’s on the PGA Tour now. He won $108,000 for his victory, and the same first prize is on the line today.