Teenager leads AT&T National -- Gazette.Net


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Skimming the field of the AT&T National is like looking through a list of some of the PGA Tour’s finest veterans. There is a U.S. Open champion (Jim Furyk), a man entrusted with Ryder Cup captaincy (Davis Love III) and a Claret Jug winner (Stewart Cink). Yet as Friday ended — the second day of golf play at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda — a 19-year-old sits atop the leaderboard, well ahead of those polished veterans and two strokes better than anybody not named Roberto Castro.

Jordan Spieth, who spent just one year at the University of Texas before turning pro, is competing in the AT&T by way of sponsor exemption. He turned in one of the better rounds of his career on Friday, making five birdies — all on the front nine — and managing 7,574-yard, par 71 Blue Course without a single bogey to capture a share of the lead (7-under par) with Castro (66-69).

“In order to be in that position, you’ve got to drive the ball really well,” said Spieth, who made his Tour debut in 2010 at age 16. He refers to fellow golfers Lee Trevino and Tom Watson as “Mr. Trevino” and “Mr. Watson,” and was too young to remember Ernie Els winning the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional. “I think that was the key today. I just need to not think too far ahead this weekend. We’re only halfway through the tournament. So there’s a long way to go. I’m happy with what I’m doing as far as hitting greens.”

And Spieth (69-66) isn’t just hitting the greens, he’s lobbing in his Titleist balls right next to the pin. Combined between the first two rounds, the Texan has regularly hit his approach shot to within 20 feet of the hole, setting him up for eight total birdies, which is the ninth most of anybody in the field. Play on Friday afternoon was cut short due to thunderstorms and it is expected to resume at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday.

“Yesterday I actually gave myself a lot of great opportunities to shoot a few strokes better, and I didn’t make a putt outside of about eight feet, which was on the last hole,” Spieth said on Friday. “So I was looking for improving on my putting today. Got off to a hot start right there on one. Able to make the turn at 5-under. ... I’m excited for what the weekend’s going to bring.”

Spieth, though he is far and away the greenest player at the top of the leaderboard, he is just the beginning of the youngsters in contention. Of the 13 players currently in the top 10 — seven are tied for seventh — eight are less than 30 and four (Cameron Tringale, Russell Henley, David Lingmerth and Spieth) are less than 25. Cink is the most grizzled vet at the top and he is just 40. It comes just a week after Ken Duke, 44, won the Traveler’s Championship.

“It’s nice to see ... some of the younger guys moving up,” Cink said after his round of a 2-under 69 put him in seventh place. “Roberto is having a good growing spell this year and coming into his own, and Cameron’s proven that he’s a really solid player, too.

“I like to see those guys out there playing well. I’d like to play with them over the weekend.”

tmewhirter@gazette.net