Besler best through 2 at the NTO

The defending and three-time champion is just 2 strokes back

Jim Knous wasn’t quite as sharp as he was Friday when he fired a 67, but his second-round 70 was good enough to put him in a five-player tie for second place at the Navajo Trail Open, two strokes behind leader Brad Besler. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Jim Knous wasn’t quite as sharp as he was Friday when he fired a 67, but his second-round 70 was good enough to put him in a five-player tie for second place at the Navajo Trail Open, two strokes behind leader Brad Besler.

With a steady-as-she-goes performance through two rounds, Brad Besler’s back on top at the Navajo Trail Open.

But there’s quite a pool of sharks lined up behind him, looking for a chance to strike in the final 18 holes.

Besler followed Friday’s 68 with a 67 on Saturday to get to 7 under and lead the field heading into today’s final round at Hillcrest Golf Club.

“Had a bunch (of putts) just burn the hole (Saturday). ... I just played smart and hit good quality iron shots,” Besler said.

The Blessing, Texas, native had the lead late in the final round a year ago before Micah Rudosky rallied to claim the championship. In fact, Besler held a two-shot lead at the 16th tee before the Cortez pro battled back.

“I thought about that,” Besler said with a laugh after Saturday’s round. “I think I’ll just do the same thing I did last time. The guy who won just hit good shots, and my putter let me down toward the end, and that’s one thing I’ve worked on.”

This year, Besler said he doesn’t plan to change up his final-round approach, instead looking for better execution and to make a few more putts. He said he just narrowly missed a handful in Saturday’s round before executing a nifty putt on the final hole, No. 9, to save par after driving wide of the green on the par three.

Holding off the rest of the field likely won’t be easy despite a two-shot advantage, given the quintet at 5 under. Rudosky, a three-time champion, again is in contention after carding a 2-under 69 on Saturday, while Round 1 leader Jim Knous opened with a birdie on No. 10, had a nice par save after his drive went awry on No. 11 and was 1 under Saturday after shooting a 4-under 67 on Day 1.

University of Colorado product Kane Webber stayed steady, finishing with a par on the ninth and following Friday’s 69 with a 68 to sit at 5 under, while fellow former CU golfer Derek Tolan shot a 68 of his own to move to 5 under.

University of Houston alumnus Ricky Romano followed suit, also carding a 68 to get to within two of Besler.

The round of the day, however, belonged to Jeffrey Franks. The former University of Wyoming golfer birdied his first three holes and carded a 66 to move within three shots of the lead. He joined Richard Gaona at 4 under.

It marked a six-shot turnaround from Friday for Franks, who recently finished 10th in the U.S. Open Local Qualifier in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I guess I just got off to a hot start (Saturday). ... Wish I would’ve done a little better on the front (nine), but 66 I can’t complain about out here,” Franks said.

For Franks, it was an encouraging sign as he moves forward with his career. After playing sparingly for the last nine months and working for golf equipment company TaylorMade, Franks said he’s accrued enough sponsors to return to playing golf full-time and hopes to earn his tour card at the PGA Tour’s Q School.

Perhaps one of the reasons for Franks’ turnaround was the conditions in the morning at Hillcrest. The pros, who started in the afternoon Friday, began play at 7:54 a.m. Saturday, and Franks said he found the conditions much more amenable. The pros will tee off this afternoon for the final 18.

“A little more receptive greens, just a little softer, that’s about it. Speed’s always up,” he said.

Besler tried his hand at Q School recently, falling short of earning his card. But since then, he said, he’s played well, a trend he hopes to continue today.

“I’ve been playing pretty solid this year, and I guess my motto is to just take it one hole at a time, one shot at a time,” he said.

Ryan Hogue shot a 69 to get to 2 under, while former champions Luke Tanner (Fort Lewis College alumnus) and brothers Bobby Kalinowski and Tom Kalinowski (Durango High School alumni) are at 1 under, along with Ron Faria, Klinton Krieger and Steve Schneiter.

Former DHS and FLC golfer Devin Schreiner, who entered the day one shot out of the lead, shot a 77. Schreiner’s former FLC teammate, Gavin Lyons, is the low amateur at even par.