Cameron Champ, a 24-year-old from California, surged out of the gates Friday with a front-nine 28 and shot a 7-under 65 to take the lead at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
Detroit — It's a workday, and the sun hadn't been up for 90 minutes, yet fans already were streaming through the entrances at Detroit Golf Club around 8 a.m. Friday.
Funny thing. They were the late-arriving folks.
It was shaping up to be another day of better-than-expected crowds at the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, and the PGA Tour professionals rewarded their patronage with more bushels of birdies.
Cameron Champ, a 24-year-old Californian who can drive the ball from Earth to Mars, excited the galleries early with a front-nine 28 that included five birdies in a row from Nos. 2-6, then for good measure, he made eagle at the seventh — his approach shot from just 179 yards, after a 365-yard drive. Yes, 365 yards. It wouldn't even be his longest drive of the day.
Champ's early efforts perked up the golf world, as he was officially on 59 alert. He cooled off on the back, and finally made a bogey at No. 13 and parred the par-5 14th.
But he was the early lead at 13 under for the tournament, after shooting a 65 with a bogey on the 18th.
The first in the clubhouse at double-digits under par was Peter Malnati, a 32-year-old from Indiana who's never had a top-five finish on the PGA Tour. He shot a second-round 66 that got him to 10 under for the tournament. Interestingly, Malnati was much less impressed with himself than the crowds.
"Detroit was out," he said after signing his scorecard. "I'm kind of, you know, (not) a pretty big-named group, when you've got me and Sam Burns and Denny (McCarthy), but even in our group there were quite a few good spectators. And then you could see four groups behind us where you've got your Gary Woodlands, and DJs (Dustin Johnson), and all that. I mean, it's an impressive turnout.
"I know sometimes it takes a few years to get that established, and it's really, really impressive to see here how this feels in every way like a long-time Tour event."
Things should only get bigger and louder on the weekend, as Saturday and Sunday grounds tickets have been sold out for more than a week.
Thursday was impressive enough, among the better opening-round showings for a non-major on the PGA Tour this season, PGA Tour folks are whispering. They won't have official attendance figures until after the weekend.
Speaking of Johnson, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, and Woodland, the reigning U.S. Open champion, they both were expected to miss the cut after getting to 2 under through two rounds. The cut line midday Friday was expected to be 3 under.
"I've got some work to do," said Woodland, who's now turning his sights to next month's British Open. "Just tighten some things up. I wasn't prepared as much as I probably should have been
Also among the early leaders, Ryan Armour was at 11 under after a 69, and Peter Malnati and Byeong Hun An were at 10 under, each shooting 66s.