There was little doubt which was the top gun in Thursday’s second round of the Merrill Lynch Open.
Christopher Brown followed up his first-round 65 with a steady 2-under par 70 to take a one-stroke lead over Ryan Baca midway through the $125,000 Adams Pro Tour event at Santa Maria Golf Course.
Playing partner Lance Lopez fired the round of the day by three strokes, a no-bogey 8-under 64 that vaulted him into a tie for third at 7-under 137 after an opening 73.
“Honestly I thought 10 under would be leading after (Thursday),” Brown said. “Most of the par-5s are birdie holes. But you know how it is with golf, it’s hard to put two good rounds together.”
No one knows that better than defending Merrill Lynch champion Devin Carrey.
The former Louisiana-Lafayette golfer scorched Santa Maria with a 9-under 63 Wednesday that included a score of 8-under 28 on the back nine.
Thursday, Carrey played those same nine holes in 13 more strokes, bogeying Nos. 10, 11 and 12 and recording a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 15th. He’s still in contention, though, tied for 10th at 5-under 139 with Baton Rouge’s Gregory Berthelot and four other players.
Lopez didn’t have a blemish on his card despite windier conditions and tougher pin placements than players faced Wednesday. He credited a “eureka” moment on the practice green before his round as the key to going low.
“I’ve been struggling for a while with my putting,” Lopez said, “playing around with different things trying to get back in groove. I found something this morning and I thought, ‘This feels pretty good.’ The rest of my game fed off my putting.”
Lafayette’s Bryan Rowell and 2012 Merrill Lynch champion Michael Arnaud were tied for 16th at 4 under 140. Baton Rougean Brandt Garon shot a second-round 74 but made the cut on the number at even par 144.
Metairie’s Neal Ajubita, a former Jesuit High golfer who played in last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans on the PGA Tour, shot 74-72 but missed the cut by two strokes.
After Thursday’s second round concluded, the nine players tied one stroke off the cut line at 1 over 145 took part in the tournament’s second shot challenge, vying for additional spots to play the weekend.
The players each took a shot from 187 yards across the lake that defines the par-5 18th, the three closest to the hole making it through. They were Wes Worster, Tyler Sheppard and Stanton Tondre.
A total of 119 players entered the tournament. They included players from 13 states and six foreign countries (Canada, Mexico, England, Sweden, Venezuela and South Africa). … Following the conclusion of Friday’s round, players will take part in a free junior golf clinic at 4 p.m. at the Santa Maria practice facility. … The tournament concludes Saturday. There is no admission charge any day.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter @RabalaisAdv.