After play was completed in the first round of the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship at Champions at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville on Thursday, officials tried to get out ahead of a nasty Friday forecast by moving tee times up an hour, with the first group of golfers set to go off at 7 a.m.
It was a good plan that didn’t bear fruit. Severe thunderstorms moved into the Central Kentucky area earlier than expected and before play could begin tee times had to be pushed back an hour and a half.
Things went smoothly for the next five or so hours, with Troy Merritt maintaining the lead he built after round one and Lexington native Josh Teater torching the front nine to climb up the leaderboard.
But right after Teater completed his round, play was suspended as weather in the surrounding area began turning ugly. Spectators were told to evacuate the course and many boarded buses that shuttled them back to their vehicles at Keeneland.
Officials drove a fleet of golf carts throughout the course to pick up tournament volunteers and usher them to safety in the clubhouse and the media center next door.
After the same wind-heavy thunderstorms that battered much of Central Kentucky took their toll on the Champions course for three hours, officials made the call to suspend the rest of the round until Saturday. Play will resume at 7:30 a.m. with only 41 of 132 golfers having completed their second round and 27 players yet to begin theirs.
There’s work to be done before the course will be ready for play on Saturday. Evidence of the storm’s severity could be seen in multiple spots on the course early Friday evening. There were large tree limbs and debris near the green on hole No. 11 and several portable toilets along its cart path had been overturned.
Despite the difficulties presented by the weather, Barbasol Championship executive director Brooks Downing said there’s a plan in place to make sure the event is completed. The hope is that the second round can be completed without further delays and that the third round can begin after a short break.
“The beauty is we’ve got long summer nights here, so that would take us up to 9 o’clock,” Downing said. “On Saturday, we’d finish up the second round then make the cut and restart the third round shortly thereafter. There might be an hour between, some kind of short break.”
Downing said it’s likely that on Saturday the third round will begin on two tees and that golfers will be grouped into threesomes instead of pairs in order to increase the likelihood that the round can be completed on Saturday to get things back on track.
“They’ve got little ways they can play with the field and the pairings ... they can modify that to try and catch it back up.”
Downing said the course is in great shape and can handle rain without becoming unplayable, but lightning is his biggest concern.
“Whenever there’s lightning we have to evacuate the course.”
Downing said the tournament could be extended into Monday if need be.
Big names washed out
Several players who were likely set to draw big crowds on Friday never got the chance to unleash their clubs. LPGA star Brittany Lincicome, who commanded the tournament’s biggest following on Thursday, was set to tee off at about 3:30 on Friday. Play was suspended shortly before that, so now Lincicome will begin her second round at 7:52 Saturday morning. At 6 over through one round, she’s a long shot to make the cut, which is projected to be at 3 under or better.
Former University of Kentucky standout Chip McDaniel will also tee off at 7:52 a.m. Saturday. Siting at 2 over, he has also got some work to do to make the cut. McDaniel’s ex-UK teammate is in much stronger position. Cooper Musselman is 2 under after round one. He’ll tee off at 8:03 a.m. Former Louisville star Derek Fathauer is also on the bubble at 2 under. He’ll begin play at 7:30 a.m.
Horschel in the hunt
One of the bigger names in the Barbasol field, 2014 FedEx Cup Champion Billy Horschel, gained ground on Friday. He’s two shots off the lead after firing a a bogey-free, 6-under 66. Horschel birdied three of his last five holes in the second round, including No. 17 and No. 18.
Horschel has won four PGA Tour events, most recently the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2017.