Cody Paladino of Wethersfield Country Club fired a second round 69 to grab the overnight lead heading into the final round of the 81st Connecticut Open Championship. He holds a one stroke lead over Pete Ballo of Woodway Country Club and Nick Harrington of The Windham Club, both of whom shot second round scores of 67 to stand just one stroke back.
Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Connecticut Open is the only CSGA Championship that is open to both amateurs and professionals. The tournament tests the state’s top golfers over three rounds of stroke play at the renowned The Patterson Club in Fairfield, Connecticut. The total purse for the tournament is $50,000, with the professional champion capturing a winner’s check of $12,500.
After opening yesterday with a four under-par round of 67, Paladino held steady throughout much of his afternoon round despite conditions that saw the scoring average for the field jump nearly a full stroke. Teeing off on the tenth hole in the afternoon wave, he began the round tied for the lead at four under-par, but a bogey on the 14th hole matched with eight pars on his outward nine dropped him to three under-par and two strokes off the pace.
“I hit a lot of really good shots and had a ton of good looks from holes 15-2, but didn't make any of them,” said Paladino. “You can easily tell yourself that the putts just are not falling today and that its not my day, but the key is to keep hitting fairways and greens, you're going to make some eventually, and I made a few coming in.”
Indeed he did, making three birdies and no bogies on his inward nine for a round of three under-par 69 and sole possession of the lead. The 2006 and 2013 CSGA Player of the Year turned professional last year and has been playing full-time on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, and will be seeking his first professional win when tomorrow’s round begins.
“It would be phenomenal,” said Paladino. “I play to win golf tournaments. In 2013 I won a lot of tournaments as an amateur, but this would be my first professional victory. I feel like I am ready to win, and I’m excited to play tomorrow.”
Trailing Paladino by a single stroke at five under-par is the duo of Ballo and Harrington. Both players will be seeking to capture their first CSGA major championship.
With an opening round of 70, Harrington began his second round six shots off the lead of his future UConn teammates, Corey Birch and John Flaherty. Despite an opening bogey on the par-4 first hole, Harrington rebounded with five birdies and no bogies, tying the low round of the day with 67 and jumping to five under-par for the championship.
“I kept my head in it all day. A bogey on the first hole is not really how you want to start, but it’s a good motivator to make birdies,” said Harrington. “The putter was working for me, and my caddie was giving me a lot of good reads. I felt very calm and comfortable out there.”
At eighteen years of age, Harrington will be an incoming freshman at the University of Connecticut and will join the likes of Flaherty and Birch, along with 2014 CSGA Player of the Year Zach Zaback on their Division I golf team. He will begin his final round looking to become the first amateur since Jeff Hedden to win the Connecticut Open Championship. Hedden won the title in 2008 at Round Hill Club after trailing by one stroke heading into the final round.
Also tied with Harrington one stroke back is Ballo, who also shot a round of 67 for a two round total of four under-par 137. While his rounds of 70-67—137 are remarkable in their own right, his turnaround from the start of the first round is even more impressive. Ballo began his quest for the Connecticut Open three over through his first six holes. After that point, he played the next 30 holes in eight under-par, catapulting him from the bottom of the leaderboard to the top. His second round featured six birdies matched against just two bogies, and included a stretch of five birdies in seven holes (#5-11).
“I hit my driver really well today and I gave myself a lot of wedges into a lot of greens,” said Ballo. “I got enough of them close enough where I could be aggressive with the putts. As long as I keep my driver in play I am going to give myself wedges. I know if I have a wedge in my hand I have to be aggressive to give myself a chance at birdie.”
Winning the Connecticut Open title would mark his first professional win, but would also be a special win in a different way for the recent graduate of Sacred Heart University. Ballo’s father, Mike, is a two-time Connecticut Open Champion, having won in 1969 and 1978.
“It would be great to win with my dad having won twice,” said Ballo. “It would mean a lot being my first professional win. For that to happen at the Connecticut Open after growing up in Connecticut and playing a lot of Connecticut events, it would mean a lot to me.”
Standing alone in fourth place just two strokes back is four-time champion Kyle Gallo of Tallwood Country Club. Gallo made his way around the 6,824 yard par-71 layout in 67 strokes, jumping him into contention after an opening round of even par. His round included a stretch of four straight birdies on holes 4-7.
“I knew if I put a couple [of birdies] together I would be in good shape,” said Gallo. “Fortunately I had four in a row, and now I sit at -4. I am very comfortable where my game is and I feel comfortable on the course. It’s just a matter of putting the second shots in the right positions to hit into these greens.”
Gallo will begin the final round looking to become the first player in the eighty-one year history of the tournament to win five titles. Gallo last won the Open in 2010 at the Country Club of Fairfield, tying the 54-hole scoring record of 200 (-10).
“It's history, but I am not going to look at it that way,” said Gallo. “It is trying to win another golf tournament. The accolades will happen afterwards if I am fortunate enough to play well.”
All in all, a total of thirteen players stand within five strokes of the lead, including 2003 champion Steve Sokol of Orange Hills Country Club (68-71—139). Three-time defending champion Frank Bensel of Century Country Club is six strokes back at even par for the championship.
The 81st Connecticut Open Championship concludes Wednesday, with the leaders teeing off at 7:30 a.m. Live hole-by-hole scoring will be available for all of the leading groups online at ConnecticutOpen.com. Admission to The Patterson Club is free for the Connecticut Open and spectators are encouraged to attend.
Making “The Cut”
This year’s starting field of 150 players was trimmed to just the low 42 competitors following the conclusion of play on Tuesday. Each year, the lowest 40 competitors, plus ties, advance to play the final round of stroke play on the third and final day.
The cut line was projected at 146 (+4) at the start of the day, after day one showed 38 players at 73 (+2) or better. With firmer conditions and faster greens, the cut line briefly moved to 147 (+5); but at day’s end, the cut line dropped to three over-par 145 (+3). All professional players who make the cut earn a paycheck, with the winner taking home the first-place professional prize of $12,500.
Leading Groups Starting Times (Starting on #1 Tee)
10:03 a.m. - Adam Rainaud, Black Hall Club (139) & Brian Gaffney, Quaker Ridge GC (140)
10:12 a.m. - Steve Sokol, Orange Hills CC (139) & Clark Robinson (a), Ellington Ridge CC (139)
10:21 a.m. - Pete Ballo, Woodway CC (137) & Kyle Gallo, Tallwood CC (138)
10:30 a.m. - Cody Paladino, Wethersfield CC (136) & Nick Harrington (a), The Windham Club