Getting to know the leaders in the AT&T

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Pitches and Putts,Sports,Kevin Dunleavy

Here’s a little bit about the three less-than-household names  who were in the lead Friday in the AT&T National before they were overtaken by Hunter Mahan. The trio is now two strokes back.

Brendon de Jonge

The 31-year-old from Zimbabwe has one win on the Nationwide Tour (2008) and is seeking his first PGA victory in four seasons on tour. He entered the AT&T National in fine form – 10 straight made cuts and a T8 at the Travelers Championship last week.

The 6-foot, 230-pounder was playing junior golf in Florida when he was recruited by Virginia Tech. Many Tech fans were cheering him on when he made a run at the 2010 Greenbrier Classic – 40 miles from the Blacksburg campus — but couldn’t keep up with the historic final-round performance of Stuart Appleby (59) who finished five shots clear of de Jonge.

The game of de Jonge belies his bulky appearance. He is not a power player as he ranks 116th in driving distance. He is a stellar iron player, however, as he ranks No. 15 in greens in regulation.

Tournament: He ranks No. 1 in the AT&T National in strokes gained putting, needing just 51 putts in the first two rounds. “I’ve always been a streaky putter, and hopefully it’s a long streak,” de Jonge said.

Quotable: “When you’re as fit as I am, it’s easy,” de Jonge joked when asked about getting tired in the heat, which reached 100 degrees on Friday. “I’ve always played a lot, though. It’s what I’m used to. I do a pretty good job of taking Monday and Tuesdays off.”

Jimmy Walker

The 33-year-old Texan has spent seven of the last eight years on the PGA Tour after he was named Nationwide Tour player of the year in 2004. His best PGA Tour finish is a third-place at the 2010 Valero Texas Open.

Tournament: Walker’s success at Congressional comes as a surprise as he entered ranked No. 172 in driving accuracy and has hit only 53.6 percent of the fairways in the tournament. Walker’s strength is putting as he ranks No. 28 in strokes gained on the greens during the season and No. 5 in the tournament. The 6-2, 180-pounder is averaging a prodigious 315 yards per drive at Congressional. Walker also has been the most consistent player in the first two rounds, making just one bogey. No player has more than his 29 pars.

Quotable: “Today it was a lot more defensive,” Walker said of his play. “I wasn’t hitting as many fairways, and I was really trying to put my second shots in spots where I could get up and down … There’s a lot of sand in the bunkers, so I’m not saying that bunker shots are easy this week. They’re pretty tough. It’s tough to spin it out of them because they’re so fluffy.”

Robert Garrigus

The 34-year-old from Arizona is the most accomplished of the three leaders, with one PGA Tour victory (2010 Childrens Miracle Network) and seven runner ups, including the Humana and Transitions this year. Has gone 0-3 in playoffs on the PGA Tour.

Made news in 2011 when he admitted to Golf Digest that he and several other players regularly smoked marijuana on the Nationwide Tour in 2002. Went through rehab in 2003 and met his wife there. Weight loss of 25 pounds has contributed to solid play this year. He ranks third in driving distance and 15th in greens in regulation.

Tournament: Ranks No. 1 in driving distance (328.3 yards per drive) and has 11 birdies, best in the field after the morning wave of Friday. Hitting the ball so far that on No. 18, he used a lob wedge for his second shot after a 358-yard drive, and a 7-wood at No. 9 for a 271-yard approach.

Quotable: “Everything about this course fits my eye. There’s a lot of places on the greens that you can err and make a par or even have a chance at birdie and they’re big enough where you have a hole to hit it to,” Garrigus said. “I feel like I can hit every fairway, just the way everything sets up. It’s set up – the rough cuts and everything — they give you perfect targets, everything out there. There’s stuff to aim at. That’s what I love. I just love the place.”

Kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner