Wendel Akins likes to let his play on the golf course speak for itself, and it came through loud and clear Saturday morning at the Baton Rouge Open.
Akins carded a 6-under par 66 at Santa Maria golf course to take the lead at the halfway point of the 36-hole championship.
All totaled, 11 players played their first round under par including Todd Elkins, who was two shots back after a 68. Blaine A. Patin, Eric Hoffmann, Dante Caldera and defending champion Brandt Garon were each tied for third after shooting 69. They were followed by Chuck Laudermill, Shane Starns and Peyton McCulloch at 2-under 70.
Also under par were Blake Watts and Mike Drury, who were five shots back after shooting 71s.
They are all among the top 16 golfers who will play in the championship flight beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday
Like most of the leaders, Akins started his round Saturday on the back nine. Even par through five holes, the Georgia native birdied 15, 17 and 18 to make the turn at 3 under.
On the front side, Akins made noise on both par 5s. He birdied No. 3 and rolled in an eagle at No. 7 before closing his round of 66 with two pars.
Elkins said he felt good from the start when he knocked a wedge close at the par-4 10th and made birdie. He bogeyed the next hole, and was off and running with a back-and-forth round that had more ups than downs.
Elkins birdied 14 and 16 to get to 2-under, and offset a bogey at 17 with a birdie at 18. On the front, Elkins birdied the first but dropped a shot at four. He closed with birdies at 7 and 8 to finish at 68.
“I hit a lot of good iron shots, and I made a few putts,” said Elkins, a long-hitting player who didn’t pressure himself prior to the tournament.
“I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to break 80. It was kind of like I didn’t care, and I went out and played pretty good.”
Garon overcame a double bogey at the par-5 15th on his way to 69. He started his round with birdies on three of his first four holes, but bounced back to 3-under with an eagle at 18. His front side featured birdies at 3 and 6, and bogeys at 5 and 7.
For Patin, the runner-up last year to Garon, it was a closing kick that made all the difference in his round. With two birdies and two bogeys on his card, Patin was even par through 13 holes, but birdied 5, 7 and 9.
“I had a couple of bad swings, but overall played pretty well,” Patin said. “I made a handful of birdies and a couple of bogeys. Last year I played well in this tournament so I was hoping to be in the mix again, and have a chance to compete on (Sunday).”
Caldera was 2-over after taking double bogey at 12, but picked up shots at 13 and 18 to make the turn at even par. His round came to life with birdies at 3, 4 and 5 on the front.
Hoffmann’s 69 was highlighted by a hole out for eagle at the par-4 14th. McCulloch’s 70 was book ended by bogeys at 1 and 18, and featured birdies at 7, 12, 13 and 15.
Chuck Laudermill’s round of 70 had only one blemish, a double bogey at 16. He made the turn at 2-over, but birdied 4, 5, 6 and 9 to work his way into contention with a spot in the championship flight.
“There are a lot of good players in the field,” Patin said. “There are a lot of good golfers in Baton Rouge. This is one of the more popular tournaments of the year, and they all turn out for this event.”