Jeff Burton is starting to buy into this whole Land of Enchantment thing.
Burton made the trip from Scottsdale, Ariz., for this week’s Sandia Resort and Casino New Mexico Open. So far his visit has been, well, enchanting.
Burton fired a second-round 67 on Wednesday and will take a four-shot lead into Thursday’s final round at Sandia Golf Club. Burton’s two-round total of 13-under-par 131 gives him some margin for error over the rest of the field – not that he’s made many errors.
“This course is perfect,” Burton said. “The greens are so nice, they’re hard to beat, and the weather’s been perfect. I don’t want to go back to Arizona.”
Albuquerque’s Sam Saunders was in second place after Wednesday’s action. Saunders was satisfied with his two-day score of 135 but a brief in the second round will make overtaking Burton a challenge. Saunders had three bogeys over a six-hole stretch before righting the ship with three straight birdies on his final nine.
“It was a little more of a struggle today,” said Saunders, who shot 65 in Tuesday’s first round. “Fortunately, those three birdies put me back in a good position.”
Burton and Saunders will join Texan Matt McClung in Thursday’s final group, scheduled to tee off around 10:30 a.m. McClung shot a 69 on Wednesday and is in third place at 136.
As one might expect, Burton does not plan to change anything for today’s final round.
“I just have to stay patient and not get ahead of myself,” he said. “Bogeys are going to happen. When they do, you just have to stay calm and keep playing.”
Burton had five birdies without a blemish on the front nine Wednesday, but he played the back nine at even par (two birdies, two bogeys).
Albuquerque’s DJ Brigman posted Wednesday’s best overall round, a 7-under 65, to climb into contention. The 2000 New Mexico Open champion is alone in fourth place at 137 and said playing in a strong group with Saunders and David Muttitt (tied for ninth at 139) helped elevate his game.
“We definitely fed off each other,” Brigman said. “It’s crazy, you’re just seeing one good shot after another. Sometimes I wanted to close my eyes when Sam or David were hitting, but they kind of forced me to step up.”
Brigman is one of five former champions in the field and all five made the cut. Last year’s winner, Tyler Torano, and Nick Mason (2015, ’16) are tied for ninth place at 139, while Albuquerque’s Wil Collins (2012) and Notah Begay III (1998) enter the final round at 141 and 144, respectively.
Conditions remained ideal Wednesday and players continued to take advantage. Forty players in the field of 156 were under par after two rounds and 51 made the cut line, which ended up at par.
“It’s been beautiful out here,” Brigman said. “I just needed a day to adapt to the speed of the greens, which are faster than I expected but really nice. I’m just hoping to go into (today’s) back nine with a chance.”
Four players were tied for fifth place at 6-under 138 after the second round. Nine players, including Muttitt and Santa Fe’s Marty Sanchez, were another shot back at 139.
The purse for the 65th New Mexico Open is $85,000. The winner’s share is $14,000.
Click here for the scoreboard.