Ex-Cats

Former UK stars climb leaderboard, make cut at Kentucky’s PGA Tour event

Cooper Musselman, who played in high school at St. Xavier and in college at Kentucky, crossed a bridge while on his way to the 14th green during the second round of the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship.
Cooper Musselman, who played in high school at St. Xavier and in college at Kentucky, crossed a bridge while on his way to the 14th green during the second round of the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship. aslitz@herald-leader.com

The careers of former University of Kentucky stars Cooper Musselman and Chip McDaniel have been intertwined for the last four years as the duo helped lead the Wildcats to unprecedented levels of success on the golf course. Most recently the senior co-captains navigated UK to a 21st-place finish at the NCAA Championships in May, carding the lowest individual scores on the team.

Unlike many college teammates, their shared story didn’t end at graduation. Musselman and McDaniel received sponsor exemptions to compete in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship, and the ex-Cats are making the most of the opportunity.

Like many others in the field, Musselman and McDaniel had their scheduled second round washed out on Friday when the severe thunderstorms that tore through Central Kentucky took their toll on the Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club. When the two finally hit the course Saturday morning, they played more like veterans than rookies.

Musselman and McDaniel both made the cut, meaning their first taste of PGA competition will result in their first professional payday.

Every non-amateur who made the cut in the Barbasol Championship will get a share of the $3.5 million purse. Just where the former Cats finish and how much they’ll earn remains to be determined. But for now, just making the cut is reward enough for Musselman.

“Now I can play a little more free, and hopefully birdies will fly,” he said. “Hopefully, I can just slowly climb up the leaderboard.”

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Former Clay County and University of Kentucky star Chip McDaniel teed off on No. 17 during the third round of the Barbasol Championship. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Musselman was right on the cusp of the projected cut line after Thursday’s first round, where he closed with back-to-back birdies and finished with a 2-under 70. He was steady again on Saturday, finishing with five birdies, including three in a row on the front nine, to move to 5 under and one shot above the cut.

Musselman said that span was crucial to maintaining his pace after an early bogey.

“It was huge for confidence,” he said. “I didn’t really hit it well the first three holes ... then I hit a good shot and made a good putt. ... That really just got me in a good zone for the rest of the day.”

By contrast, it took a whale of a round for McDaniel to make the cut. He ended the first round by bogeying four of the last six holes and falling to 2-over par. His chances of surviving the cull looked bleak. That was until McDaniel shaved off two strokes with an eagle on his fifth hole Saturday.

“I hit a 6-iron to within 12 or 13 feet, then made it. That just really got me going,” McDaniel said. “I just felt really comfortable the rest of the day.”

McDaniel began his day on hole No. 10 around the same time Musselman began his on hole No. 1. Musselman first realized his ex-teammate was racing up the leaderboard as both of them were nearing the end of their round.

“I was coming up (No.) 16 and he was on (No.) 8, and I saw his name pop up on the board and he was 5 under. Then I heard the gallery after he made a putt and I thought ‘wow, he must be playing really well,’” Musselman said. “I’m just really glad he got in, it’s awesome.”

Four more birdies got McDaniel on the right side of the cut line. He just needed to par his final hole in order to join Musselman in the third round. His brother and caddie, Todd McDaniel, wanted to make sure the mood was light.

“We’ve got one hole to go and we need a par and he’s just making jokes,” Chip said of his brother, with whom he played for one season at UK while he was a freshman and Todd was a senior. “He just keeps me loose and keeps me in the moment.”

McDaniel got up and down for the par, finishing off a brilliant run and securing his shot to spend more rounds measuring himself against PGA pros.

“Anything can happen on the weekend,” McDaniel said. “You shoot two good numbers and you’re all of a sudden in the top 10.”

Just the sixth female golfer to play in a PGA event, Brittany Lincicome said playing in the Barbasol Championship was a dream come true. Lincicome shot a 71 in the second round Saturday but missed the cut.

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