At low-scoring Rocket Mortgage Classic, it's not a 'who's who.' It's a 'who's that?'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Cameron Champ wasn't supposed to play well. And Nate Lashley, well, he wasn't even supposed to play at all.

But, hey, Detroit's never been one to conform to the norm.

Nate Lashley followed up his first-round 63 with a 5-under 67 on Friday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Yes, Champ and Lashley. Those are your two names atop the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic leaderboard through the first two rounds at Detroit Golf Club. And if you couldn't recognize them at the checkout lane at Kroger, well, perhaps by the weekend's end, you would.

"Some great storylines," said Jason Langwell, the tournament's executive director.

Even if there aren't many great names.

Lashley, the first-round leader, followed up his 9-under 63 with a pretty-tidy 67 to take a one-stroke lead over Champ into the weekend at the significantly low-scoring tournament. 


And Lashley didn't even get into the tournament until Wednesday, when a fourth and final player withdrew from the tournament.

Lashley played in Monday's qualifier out at The Orchards and didn't qualify, but given a tip it might be worth his while to stick around, he did. He plopped himself down on the grounds Tuesday and Wednesday, checking occasionally and a perhaps a bit nervously to see if anyone else withdrew. And Wednesday morning, about five minutes before said player pulled out around 11 a.m., Lashley actually realized he hadn't signed his registration papers. So he hastily did.

Had he not before the fourth WD, the spot would've gone to the next alternate, said Langwell, who added Lashley was among those he considered for a sponsor's exemption into the tournament.

Look at him now. Many fans already have.

"Yeah, there were some people out there rooting me along today, that was nice of them," Lashley said. "Had some people come out and follow up.

"Being the last guy in the field, it was a nice feeling."

Lashley, a 36-year-old from Nebraska, was the first alternate left on the sheet before last week's Travelers Championship began — meaning he got left out of that one.

"That," he said, "is not any fun."

Thursday and again Friday were much more enjoyable — as Lashley birdied five of his final 14 holes to post one of the fewer low scores among the afternoon wave of golfers. The conditions got tougher — certainly not to be confused with tough — later on, with the wind and the drying-out greens.

Detroit loves an underdog story, and this could be shaping up to be a good one, with Lashley, the last player in the field, now the last player out for Saturday's third round.

Lashley (353) and Champ (128) are a combined 481st in the world golf rankings.

"I'm definitely looking forward to the weekend," Champ said.

Champ, 24, from California, took advantage of the glorious early conditions, firing a front-nine 28 that included six birdies and an eagle, at the par-5 seventh hole. At one point, he had five birdies and the eagle on six straight holes. That triggered some whispers of a "59 Watch" around the grounds, but he couldn't keep it going, and he settled for a 7-under 65, the second-best round of the day.

"It's just one of those nines, kind of everything went my way," Champ said of the front. "I just kept it going. I wasn't really thinking much.

"And then I fought pretty good on the back side to keep it."

Champ won earlier this season, his rookie season on the PGA Tour, but has played extremely poorly since February, missing a bunch of cuts and dealing with a back injury.

Cameron Champ is one of 10 golfers who are at least 10 under heading into the weekend.

J.T. Poston, meanwhile, shot the best round Friday, and in the afternoon no less, with a 9-under 63 — tying Lashley's Thursday gem for round of the week — and he was at 11 under, three shots behind.

Ten players enter the weekend at double-digits under par, including notable names such as Charles Howell III (12 under), Ryan Armour (11), Joaquin Niemann (10) and Rory Sabbatini (10). Twenty players will enter the weekend within five shots of the lead, including Hideki Matsuyama at 9 under after a second-round 67. 

Crowd favorite Rickie Fowler will be sticking around — he would've anyway, being a Rocket Mortgage pitchman — shooting a second consecutive 68, this one being bogey-free. He was at 8 under, same as another star, though not nearly the fans' favorite, Patrick Reed, who also had duplicate 68s.

"We had some interesting wind out there today," said Fowler, noting things really picked up midway through his afternoon round when it looked like a big storm was brewing — but that system stayed to the south. "It seemed like it was blowing from every which direction throughout the day.

"But it's always nice to have a clean card."

Two local players will see the weekend.

Jackson native and Oakland alumnus Brian Stuard wasn't pleased with his par-72 Friday, limping home with bogeys on two of his last three holes, but he was at 6 under, earning two more days of work. Asked if his second round was as much fun as the first, the direct-to-the-point Stuard simply replied, "No."

Petoskey's Joey Garber made the cut right on the number, thanks to a birdie on the par-5 15th and an eagle at the par-5 17th hole. He scuffled mightily early but rallied for a par-72, after a first-round 67.

The cut line came at an eye-popping 5 under par, among the lowest in PGA Tour history, though not a record. Even so, some big personalities such as U.S. Open champions Dustin Johnson (2 under) and Gary Woodland (2 under), and Masters champion Bubba Watson (1 under) won't be around for the final two rounds.

The weekend is shaping up to be more "Who's that" than "Who's who," though don't share that take with a touring professional.

"There's 156 big names out here, the way I see it," said Howell III, who shot a six-birdie, one-bogey 67. "If they're in the field, they're good enough to win."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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