Van Pelt takes advantage of 'off week'

Van Pelt takes advantage of ‘off week’

Bo Van Pelt made six birdies and two bogeys on Friday.
Brennan Linsley/AP

RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Bo Van Pelt continued the most productive week off of his career Friday at the Puerto Rico Open.

Van Pelt, seeking his first PGA Tour victory, shot a 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly halfway through the inaugural event.

Typically, Van Pelt skips events opposite a World Golf Championship stop to rest up for his next appearance. Earlier this season, he figured he’d miss this one, too.

Don’t expect that next year after his performance at Trump International Golf Club.

“I just tried to take advantage of coming down here,” he said. “I didn’t want to just waste the trip.”

He hasn’t yet.

Van Pelt started Thursday with his lowest round in nine months, then followed with another sub-70 showing – a back-to-back effort he hadn’t accomplished in seven previous tournaments this season.

“It’s been good to me so far,” Van Pelt said. “It’s just the halfway point, but we’ve enjoyed the resort.”

Kelly, at No. 63 in the world, is the highest-ranked competitor in the field. He had a chance to tie Van Pelt, but missed a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18. Still, he followed his first-round 67 with a 66, not too shabby for a player worried about his game when the week began.

Kelly wasn’t making near as many birdies as he should and his missed shots “were pretty bad,” he said.

“I’ve cleaned up my missed shots to where they’re just off the green now and my good shots are to where I’m giving myself good birdie opportunities,” he said.

Ted Purdy (68) was two strokes behind at 10 under, while Greg Kraft (66), 24-year-old qualifier Ryan Blaum (66) and Briny Baird (68) were another shot back.

If Van Pelt’s oldest children – there’s 6-year-old Olivia, 5-year-old Trace and 1-year-old Crew – hadn’t been on spring break, the family might’ve spent Easter weekend at home in Tulsa.

The location may be tropical and he may hold the lead, but Van Pelt’s doesn’t get a break from his children’s wishes once he steps off the course. “The golf just kind of gets in the way of their fun,” he said.

Take last night: Was Van Pelt working out some swing technique or honing his putting stroke? No, the Oklahoma State grad was eating pizza on the grass like the kids wanted.

“I guess that was pretty much a redneck picnic in Puerto Rico,” he said.

The Van Pelts could have all the picnics they want anywhere on the island if dad leaves with the first championship trophy.

By the time Van Pelt teed off, his two-shot first-round lead had disappeared.

He rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on his second hole, the 11th, to keep pace. A bogey on No. 14, however, dropped him from the top of the leaderboard and left him wondering if his good play would continue.

Not to worry. Van Pelt soon found the game he brought to Puerto Rico.

He made birdies on the first and second holes to regain the lead. When he lost a stroke after three-putting the par-4 third, he knocked an 8-iron 10 feet away on the next hole to grab it back. Two more birdies coming in – both on par 3s – sent him back into the lead.

Kelly kept soaking in his Carribean trip. Kelly lives on two lakes in Wisconsin and believes everyone’s better off when they’re surrounded by water.

“Put me on an island and I’m a happy man,” he said.

That’s obvious this week.

Kelly birdied five of his first six holes to stay near the top. Things slowed down back nine, but he closed with a particularly pleasing birdie on the par-4 17th after blasting out of a bunker. “I think that’s the first time that’s happened in about 12 years,” he said, laughing.

Purdy, seeking his first victory since 2005, had birdies on the 17th and 18th holes to remain where he began the round – two in back of Van Pelt.

Divots: Three Puerto Ricans made the cut in the island’s first PGA Tour event. Miguel Suarez was at 4 under, Wilfredo Morales was a stroke behind at 3 under and amateur Rafael Campos was even par. … Eighty-one players made the cut at even-par 144. That means the field will be sliced to the top 70 players and ties after Saturday’s round. … Those missing the cut this week included course designer Tom Kite and former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman.

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