Albert grabs early edge Shoots 2-under 70 to lead Gilbert by one at Pilgrim's Oak Albert grabs early edge
Lanco Amateur Golf Championship BY JASON FULGINITI, Sports Writer
Obviously, Pilgrim's Oak is not Merion, the site of last week's U.S. Open.
It just felt that way at times to a handful of the county's best amateur golfers Friday.
Even to Brixton Albert, who still found a way to survive.
Patiently scraping it around Pilgrim's Oak's 6,766-yard layout, Albert carded 2-under 70 Friday to take a one-shot lead over Conor Gilbert after the first round of the Lanco Janney Montgomery Scott Amateur Championship.
Two-time Lanco Match Play champ Corey Gast, two-time Lanco Mid-Amateur champ Chris Fieger, 2012 Lanco Player of the Year Craig Hornberger and 2011 Pennsylvania Amateur runner-up Matt Burkhart are all tied for third, three shots off the pace, after posting 1-over 73.
All told, 18 players are within five shots of the lead heading into today's 10 a.m. final round back at Pilgrim's, where the final pairing of Albert, Gilbert and Gast will tee off at 11:30 a.m.
"I heard today was the easy day with the pins," Albert, a 25-year-old software salesman, said afterward. "And I know how difficult they can make (the pin placements). The course (today) could play two shots harder."
It more than held its own Friday, when 39 players -- more than half the field -- failed to break 80, including eight-time Lanco Amateur champ King Knox (81), who had finished in the top-4 in this event each of the last two years.
The 30 players who posted 78 or better made the cut for today's final round.
"(Pilgrim's Oak) can expose some weaknesses in your game because you need a lot of quality wedge shots," said Albert, the reigning Lanco Open champion. "And wedge shots are one of the strengths of my game."
That facet of his game came in handy during a round that included six birdies and four bogeys, with four of those birdies coming on the front side, where he carded 3-under 33 to set the tone for the day.
He jumped out of the gate by hitting his approach within a couple of inches en route to a birdie at the par-4 first, before giving it back with a bogey at No. 2, where he failed to get up and down from just off the green.
But when Albert responded with birdies at the par-5 sixth (chip to within a foot), the par-4 seventh (lob wedge to six feet) and the par-5 ninth (wedge to six feet), he was on his way.
"I feel like I played well," he said. "And Pilgrim's is an interesting course where you can take advantage of some holes on the front."
But the course wasn't about to let Albert off the hook that easy.
In fact, after making bogey at the par-3 12th to fall back to 2-under, what would have been the highlight of Albert's round turned into a lowlight at the par-3 17th, where stuck his approach 20 inches behind the hole.
"I thought I made a 1 from the tee," Albert said.
Instead, Albert's adventures at 17 were just getting started. As he learned when he stood over his birdie putt.
"It was one of those downhill sliders," he said. "I'm looking at this putt thinking I need to put a good stroke on this or it could go (off the front of the green and) 10 yards down the fairway."
The end result was a three-putt -- from 20 inches -- which dropped him to 1-under.
"(The course) played so difficult," Albert said.
Still, he managed to get the final word at the 493-yard, par-5 18th, where he hit his second shot long and left of the green, before chipping his third within a foot of the hole, setting up a kick-in birdie that got him back to 2-under.
And, more importantly, in position to win his second straight Lanco "major," should Albert handle the gauntlet he's sure will be awaiting him -- and the rest of the field -- today.
"(Today) it's going to play really tough," he said. "It's going to get really tricky."