Only three players managed to break par Friday at the Crossings Course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Strokes mounted like Nebraska adds touchdowns on a day when the average score was 76.580, the second highest total on the Nike Tour this year.
Bob Burns shot the lowest round Friday and he was rewarded with a share of the lead in the $350,000 event -- leaping to the top from a tie for 17th. His 69 left him deadlocked at 2-under-par 142 with Jimmy Green, the local favorite who grew up on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.
Perry Moss, who lost a three-shot lead in shooting 77 Friday, was alone in second at 143. A total of 18 players now stand within six shots of the lead -- and the day's downward spiral undoubtedly gave confidence to a host of players back in the pack.
"There is no relaxation out here," Burns explained. "The second you relax and play really defensive, the course is going to jump up and get you. You've got to play the golf course. You've got to grind away until you get to the 72nd hole."
Come Sunday -- now, that's where the real rewards will come. The top 15 on the money list at the end of the Nike Tour Championship earn exemptions for the 1999 PGA Tour. The next 10 go directly to the final stage of the qualifying school.
So guys like Burns and Green have everything at stake as the final 36 holes unfold on this unforgiving layout. Green currently ranks 21st while Burns is 14th, and there are many similar stories to be told.
But birdies on this Robert Trent Jones creation are yielded grudgingly -- and those that are can be quickly taken away. Just ask Joe Ogilvie, among many others.
The Nike Tour's second-leading money winner has made more birdies than anyone else this week. Yet he finds himself at 2-over-par after suffering a triple bogey on Thursday, then adding a double and a quadruple in the second round.
"You've just got to be prepared to take a double bogey, then get up and walk to the next tee," explained Burns, who moved into the lead with a stretch of three straight birdies that began on the 15th hole.
"The course is going to play tough regardless of whether the wind blows. I just have to be patient. I can't be aggressive. For lack of a better term, you have to be somewhat defensive. And it's not a good way to play golf."
The well-manicured Crossings Course is made more difficult by its slick, multi-tiered greens. Precise iron shots to each level are key, as is knowing how to play the slope.
"It's really a game of inches this week," said Green, who shot 73 on Friday. "An inch here or there could be on the fringe or next to the hole. ...
"It's a flat-out hard golf course. I didn't think the greens would get this fast. I thought thcourse would play a little easier."
Like Burns and Green, Moss needs to proper over the weekend. He currently stands 39th on the money list and even if he takes home the $63,000 winner's check, Moss isn't a lock to finish in the top 15.
For a while Friday, the 29-year-old Lousiana product seemed bent on putting some more distance between himself and the field.
A birdie on the fourth hole moved Moss to 7-under and into a four-shot lead. But he played his final 12 holes in 6-over-par, making a pair of double bogeys in the process, to fall out of the lead.
"The course seemed tougher for me today," Moss said, echoing a common lament. "I didn't hit it as well as I did yesterday. The pin placement seemed tougher.
"I'm still in the tournament even though I didn't play very well. That's the thing I'm going to try and look at today. There's still a lot of golf left. When you make doubles, it hurts you.
"Through maturity, I'm going to tell myself to go get them tomorrow. Today's over. The thing I did today -- that you can't be down on yourself -- is that I gave 100 percent on every shot. I was focused. I just didn't hit the shots like I wanted to hit them."