JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Ben Griffin joined a crowded pack of contenders in the Sanderson Farms Championship and then moved past them Friday afternoon with a 30 on the back nine, sending him to a 9-under 63 and a two-shot lead going into the weekend.
Griffin’s score was one shot better than his previous best in his rookie season, highlighted by a 65-foot eagle from the fringe on the par-5 14th hole at the Country Club of Jackson.
Only one of his seven birdies came from inside 10 feet.
Griffin was at 14-under 130, two shots ahead of Harrison Endycott (65), Luke List (66), Carl Yuan (66) and Henrik Norlander (67).
The Sanderson Farms Championship is part of the FedEx Cup Fall, when players are trying to finish among the top 125 in the FedEx Cup to keep full PGA Tour cards for 2024.
Griffin is at No. 66 and already has his card locked up. At stake for him is to being among Nos. 51 to No. 60, which qualifies him for $20 million tournaments early next year at Pebble Beach and Riviera.
The four players behind him are on the bubble or in desperate need of a good week. The FedEx Cup Fall still has five tournaments left after this week, one of those a limited field in Japan.
Griffin felt he played the opening round just as well until stalling at the end, playing his last five holes in 1 over and having to settle for a 67. That seems to have mirrored his rookie season. He started great, nearly winning in Bermuda. He held his own against a strong field at Bay Hill. And then he limped his way the rest of the summer.
“I wanted to make sure I stayed aggressive,” he said.
Griffin began the back nine with a pair of 15-foot birdie putts, and then got what he called a “bonus” on the 14th with the long eagle putt. He drove just over the green on the reachable 15th, pitched into the grain to 10 feet and made birdie to take the lead.
He closed with a 15-foot birdie on the 17th, and had a chance to go ever lower until missing a birdie on the 18th from just inside 10 feet.
Still, his 63 was one better than rounds he shot at the Wyndham Championship, the Bermuda Open and The American Express.
Chesson Hadley was not quite as dangerous as he said he was on Thursday when he led with a 64. He had a 69 and was in the large group three shots behind.
Erik van Rooyen of South Africa, another player trying to make sure he nails down a spot in the top 125, was among those at 9-under 135, and mildly surprised. He was trying to simply get to the house without two much damage, and he thought he hit his gap wedge a little heavy. Expecting it to come up short, imagine his surprise when it went in for an eagle and a 68.
Scoring was so low across the field that the cut came at 5-under 139. Among those missing was defending champion Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, who made a bold bid at the end until he pulled his tee shot into the hazard on the 16th and took bogey.
Hughes missed out by a fraction finishing in the top 50, which would have secured a place in all the $20 million events next year. He still is in good shape to get in the first two.
Ludvig Aberg of Sweden, coming off a Ryder Cup debut in Rome, had a 69 and was six shots behind. Aberg was No. 1 in the PGA Tour University ranking when he finished at Texas Tech earlier this year. His card is set for 2024, but he wants to finish in the top 125 to get other perks, such as The Players Championship.
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