By Scott Sonner/The Associated Press
RENO, Nev. – Alexandre Rocha says one of the reasons he has never won on the PGA Tour is that he often gets off to slow starts.
That wasn’t a problem Friday when the 34-year-old Brazilian opened birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle on the way to the top of the second-round leaderboard in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
“I was fortunate to get off to the hottest start I think I’ve ever had in my professional career,” said Rocha, who finished the day with seven birdies, three bogeys and the eagle.
He had a two-day total of 24 points in the modified Stableford scoring system that rewards aggressive play with eight points for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-one for bogey and minus-three for double bogey or worse.
J.J. Henry had his second eagle of the tourney, and John Mallinger had six birdies Friday to move into a tie for second at 22.
First-round leader Andres Romero of Argentina and Arjun Atwal of India had 21 points, and 2010 Reno-Tahoe winner Matt Bettencourt followed with 20. John Daly was seventh with 19. He birdied six of his last 10 holes.
Rocha has won nine times around the world since 2000, when he was an All-America selection at Mississippi State and recalls once opening a round with 12 consecutive 3s.
“But never as a professional either in Europe or on the PGA Tour have I started with 5 under through four holes,” he said. “It always helps to create momentum, which is something I’ve been missing all year long.”
Starting on the back nine on the 7,472-yard Montreux Golf & Country Club layout, Rocha made a pair of 10-foot birdie putts and added a third when he hit his approach to 4 feet on the 429-yard, par-4 12th.
After holing an 11-foot eagle putt on the 518-yard 13th, he bogeyed two of the next three holes, but rallied and settled for his final birdie on the 636-yard, par-5 eighth when he missed another eagle attempt from 14 feet.
Mallinger, who has four finishes in the top 25 this year but also is seeking his first PGA Tour win, is among those in the field who had never before played in the Stableford format last used on tour at the 2006 International in Colorado.
“I’m actually having a tough time keeping up with the points,” Mallinger said. “I’m just trying to get used to it … getting the score out of my mind and just playing golf.”
“But I like it,” he added quickly, noting that he jumped from 38th place to fifth when he eagled his penultimate hole in the opening round. “It should be an exciting finish.”
Daly, the winner of the 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 British Open, hasn’t won on tour since the 2004 Buick Invitational. He had two bogeys and a double bogey but reeled off three straight birdies making the turn and closed with two more — the last a 2-footer after nearly holing out his approach for an eagle on the par-4 ninth.
“For me, this is a great format,” said Daly, who has made the cut only once in five previous tries at Reno but now has made eight cuts in 10 events this year, his best a tie for 12th last month in the Greenbrier Classic.
“You can get real aggressive. There’s a lot of birdie holes out there. The fairways are generous,” the long-ball hitter said.
Padraig Harrington, who was tied for 23rd in a group with David Duval with 14 points, said he’s had trouble with “a lot of calculations” on the mountain course where the ball travels farther on the edge of the Sierra Nevada than it does at sea level.
“I’ve got quite a bit of ground to make up,” said the Irishman who has three major titles. “I’m a little frustrated to be honest.”
“You’ve got to get the yardage, you’ve got to add on whatever pace you are off the sprinkler, then you’ve got to add on or take off for downhill. And then you’ve got to add on for the pin and then you’ve got carry in over a bunker, say, and then you’ve got to adjust it by 5 percent in the morning and maybe a little more in the afternoon.”
Mike Weir and Camilo Villegas were among those who failed to make the cut in the field vying for a $3 million purse while the world’s best compete at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Akron, Ohio.
Henry has three top-10 finishes this year, including a tie for third at the Byron Nelson Championship and is bidding for his second career win on the PGA Tour.
“As much as you’d like to be playing in Akron, this is a fun place to come,” Henry said. He bogeyed his first two holes Friday said he was able to recover partly due to the scoring system when he rolled in a 25-foot eagle on the 636-yard eighth.
“A birdie and a bogey is better than two pars. And if you can make a couple of eagles, you’re going to jump over a lot of guys.”
J.B. Holmes, tied for eighth with Hunter Haas after tallying all but one of his 18 points on Friday, said he tries not to look at the leaderboard.
“You’ve just got to keep it going knowing that it’s not strokes,” said Holmes, who had nine birdies and a bogey. “Somebody could be six spots back and make an eagle and all of a sudden they’re right there.”