EVANSVILLE, Ind. – It wasn’t the opening weekend that some had envisioned for the city’s Men’s Tournament.
The topic for weeks was scoring. Fendrich hosted the first two rounds as several greens at Helfrich needed repairs. A short, flat course in dry conditions? Stunning numbers were discussed.
This conversation was quickly squashed, with the weather being a constant factor. What happened in the first two rounds, however, should still lead to an intriguing final weekend.
A handful broke away from the peloton with a strong start to the 93rd City Tournament. David Mills finished 12 under through Sunday to lead Nathan Hoss by two strokes with 22 players finishing tied or better.
The numbers at the top were nothing to complain about. There were still red numbers to be had. The best players have found them.
“(The rain) softened things up and the course played a little longer,” Mills said. “It’s probably good for me because I’m long compared to most competitors. A few weeks ago, if you were on the wrong side, goodbye.
Mother Nature is always the equalizer. Several storms swept through the three states starting Saturday morning when the first round was delayed by four hours. The last five groups have been called back to resume at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday. There were fears of a second-round washout; only the first 18 holes would have counted in this scenario, whether the leaders finished or not.
All worry disappeared in the afternoon. It was then that attention turned to a familiar name upstairs.
Mills began his journey for his third title – the Northern grad won in 2011 and 2020 – in the first round with a sizzling 29 out of the front nine. He finished Saturday with a 7-under lead share. The second day was not so exciting. You could still say he was just as strong.
The former champion made no mistakes on Sunday. A 5-under 65 with five birdies including three in a five-hole stretch on the front side. Mills had just one bogey on its opening weekend.
“I didn’t ride very well today but I didn’t make any mistakes,” said Mills. “I kept it in front of me and did a lot of course management things well. I got into the rhythm (Saturday). When you touch it close, you don’t have to worry about it.
There will be good competition next weekend at Rolling Hills and Evansville Country Club. Some contenders from past tournaments. The top challengers can be another strong wave of promising talent.
Hoss hit 10 under after a 66 on Sunday. The 2020 North graduate had just one bogey at No. 13 but improved his game with birdies at holes 14, 17, 18, 2 and 3. After finishing second in the playoffs last year, Hoss is well placed for another title run.
“My wedges were pretty good this weekend,” Hoss said. “I didn’t putt as many as I would have liked. Overall it’s still pretty solid. I’m used to Fendrich being a bit firmer but these (greens) were very soft. You could spin the ball and aim for the pins.
The next challenger is also very intriguing. Peyton Blackard, a rising sophomore at Gibson Southern, posted a second-round 65 to finish three strokes back at 9 under. He would possibly be City’s youngest ever winner at 16.
His game is worthy of a championship. One of the best players in his class in the state, Blackard has played his last 14 holes in less than 6 years. There were three consecutive birdies around the turn and another at the par-4 short fifth. He did this by playing in the same band as Mills to match the stepping leader.
Even with the threat of bad weather, Blackard stuck to his game plan. The result was a place in the final group next Saturday at Rolling Hills.
“(My game) was solid both days,” he said. “I only made one bogey which is good here. It’s tight off the tee, which normally hurts me. I made a lot of birdies. I stuck to my plan and played my game. I was playing well and I’m happy to see a good score.
Matt Monroe (68) and Zach Williams (69) are four shots at 8 under, while Walker Beck (66) is within range at 7 under. Zachary Turi tied the low round at 65 to sit tied for seventh at 4 under with Drew Cahill.
2017 champion Matthew Ladd, two-time champion Logan Osborne, Jacob Fleming and Eric Orth complete the top 10 under 3. The top 40 and ties qualified for weekend two with the cut landing at 4-over. Josh Kain also hit a second-round hole-in-one with an 8-iron at the par-3 eighth.
Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.