Danbury (August 5, 2020) It would be fitting, in this discombobulated golf season, to have day three of the Connecticut Open, presented by Reby Advisors, end on day four.
And it will.
After tropical storm Isaias robbed the championship of seven hours of playing time yesterday—play was interrupted at 12:30 and did not resume until Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. Thirteen groups that were not able to play any holes on Tuesday. Round two ended at about 3:30 p.m., when the cut of 40 and ties (42) was determined, re-pairings were completed, and, half an hour later at 4:00 p.m., round three began. When darkness descended at about 8:15 p.m. play was stopped and will be completed Thursday morning.
At that point second-round leader Saptak Talwar (138) had slipped, making bogey at the par-4 second from a greenside bunker and double at the long par-4 7th, now -1. So had Cheshire's Eric Dietrich and Danbury's Carey Bina, both plus two for the third round and even par for the championship.
The new leader at -4 through eight was Ridgewood Country Club member Max Theodorakis, playing his first Open as a professional. In eight holes he had birdied three times and bogeyed once.
Three back at one under par with Talwar were were 2019 runner-up Paul Pastore (through 14) and Silvermine's Pete Ballo (through 10).
Along with Dietrich and Bina, others at even par were three-time Open champion Frank Bensel (through 10), New England Open Champion Jason Thresher (through 8) and Country Club of Waterbury's Blake Morris (through 8).
It was a minor miracle that tree-lined Ridgewood Country Club, “obliterated” as one player put it, by leaves, limbs and twigs late yesterday, with large branches down and some paths blocked, was able to accept play at all. Superintendent Dave Kerr’s crew removed work cart after work cart of debris, beginning at dawn. Lift, clean and place rules were in effect in round two and players were allowed to clear any storm-related pieces or get relief from those too large to move.
The calm in the center of this storm through two rounds was amateur Talwar, a Sacred Heart University senior who plays out Great River Golf Club. Talwar, who shot four-under 67 in round one, shot even-par 71 in round two (Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning), despite having to play 10 holes yesterday in some difficult weather. His final two holes, the par-4 ninth and the par-3 tenth, were, according to caddie and Sacred Heart assistant coach Bob Morton, “brutal,” with heavy rain on No. 9 and powerful, gusting winds on No. 10, a 180-yard par 3 that plays over water.
When relatively balmy conditions returned on Wednesday morning, Talwar started hot, making two birdies in his first three holes, at the par-4 11th and 188-yard, par -3 13th, and one bogey at the long 16th, to stay at -4. “I think I’m starting to get comfortable around these greens after 36 holes now. I’m starting to see lines better and match line and speed better,” he said.
Meanwhile, others were as well and a congested leader board behind Talwar was getting more congested. He led by two after two rounds when three players recorded 140.
Theodorakis shot 68, to go with round one’s 72. Fellow Ridgewood member and PGA Tour winner Ken Green picked Theodorakis to win and his 68 in round two and hot start in round three made Green look prescient.
Also starting the final round at 140 (-2) was Dietrich, the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada player, and Bina. Dietrich recorded the low round of the tournament in round two, 66, during which, he said, “I kinda battled my way through the round [in Tuesday's weather] and finished 14 at one over, which I felt good about. I knew [on Wednesday] I had two par fives ahead of me and fortunately I was able to birdie them both.” He also birdied the 461-yard, par-4 16th. Bina shot 67, with six birdies, three a side, and a bogey on each nine.
None of the leaders seemed to have a problem with the stop-and-start round. And conditions drew praise. “The maintenance guys did a good job,” said Theodorakis, playing his first Open as a pro. “And I don’t think they could cut the greens because they were wet, so they were a bit slow. So you just had to adjust a little bit. A few of the tees were up, so I definitely had more looks, though I still didn’t feel I hit it that well, but I got it around better today for sure. I would like to be leading obviously, but I got a chance in the last round, so that’s all you can ask for.” Said Dietrich: “My mindset is, I’m just going to go out and play golf.”
Forty-two players survived the cut at +6. Theodorakis, Thresher and Adam Friedman teed off at 6:00 p.m. Talwar, Dietrich and Bina were in the final group at 6:10.
At 5:50 was one of the most experienced Open pairings in recent memory. Bobby Gage, who has played both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour, four-time Connecticut Open champion Kyle Gallo, and Morris, who has status on the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica and has finished in the top five in the past three Opens. Theodorakis pointed to Gallo’s play. “Amazing,” he said.
Knowing the golf course as he does, Theodorakis believes anyone within five prior to the start of round three could “definitely” win. Thirteen players were within five shots of the lead as the final round began, including 2016 Champion Adam Rainaud of the Country Club of New Canaan, Thresher, Pastore and Ballo.
Theodorakis thought that six under par might win the championship. “Honestly, I was kind of wrong about the scores coming in to the tournament. I thought with how soft it was they’d be lower. Maybe 10 under. But I’ll have a target score this afternoon,” he said at noon. “Right now it’s probably six under for the championship, but that might change later.”
There were eight second-round scores in the 60s compared to just one during the first round, despite Isaias and its interruption. Expect more fireworks tomorrow morning.