- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2011

As Steve Wheatcroft walked up toward the 18th fairway Friday morning, the sparse group of fans gathered in the gallery ahead began to realize that, before their very eyes, they were witnessing a round that had just transformed from routine to remarkable.

The Pennsylvania native birdied 10 of his last 17 shots. And now, with every step he took on the University of Maryland golf course, the thought of reaching golf’s Holy Grail, a score of 59, pulsated through his mind.

The 33-year old Nationwide Tour pro has never shot below a 63 in his career, let alone shot a round so low that it had tournament officials scrambling to see how soundly he’d shattered the course record, which was also 63.

Yet here he was, now leading the second round of the 2011 Melwood Prince George’s County Open and only a few feet from eagling the 18th green. As he shot the ball, it rolled agonizingly past the hole, and his knees buckled and bent as he looked towards the sky in anguish. But Wheatcroft regained his composure, tapped it in for birdie and still had a final score of 60 to show for it.

“I’ve never sniffed 59 before,” Wheatcroft said. “This is the first time I’ve scared the magic number.”

The fifth-year pro had also never led any round of a PGA or Nationwide tournament.

But like any good pro, when the opportunity arose, Wheatcroft was ready.

“They prepare for these days,” Patrick Horstman, Wheatcroft’s caddy, said. “When it happens, they take advantage of it.”

And he most certainly did. Coming into the day tied for fourth after shooting a 5-under in the first round Thursday, Wheatcroft picked up birdies on four consecutive holes from the third tee to the sixth in round two.

He cooled off a bit after that, only birdying two out of his next seven, but soon regained his grip. Wheatcroft birdied his final five shots starting at the 14th hole; a mark which now stands as the best birdie streak in tournament history.

“I just kept making birdies and birdies,” Wheatcroft said. “I was very pleased with the way I played.”

In truth, he was probably more than that. His dominating performance tied the record for the best round of any golfer on the Nationwide Tour this year and his seven-stroke lead represents the largest lead of any round in any event on the Nationwide Tour.

He also set a number of personal records. Prior to Friday, Wheatcroft’s best score was a 63 he set in the 2006 Miccosukee Championship. And his two-day total of 126 bests his career-low 36-hole score that he set in the 2009 Utah Championship, which was 132.

“I’ve played in a few hundred events and I’ve never seen someone shoot a 59,” Mathew Goggin, who was paired with Wheatcroft, said. “I think he took it well and knew he finished with a good day.”

Others had good days too. After finishing the first round with a score of 6-under, Greg Owen once again had a solid performance with a score of 3-under that took him to 9-under overall, good enough for second place overall — though that leaves him seven shots behind.

And in third place, Jon Mills hit a 4-under to take his tally to 8-under overall — a score he knows needs improvement if he is to have a chance at first place and over $100,000 the tournament winner receives.

“Obviously he has a huge lead so I think he’s going to have to make some mistakes for people to catch him,” Mills said. “And I’ve played enough golf with him to know he’s a pretty solid player, so it’s going to be tough.”

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