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One for the Record Books – Jonesboro Open Round 2 Recap

By Nick Quargnenti
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2023 DGPT – Jonesboro Open Round 2 Recap

Sunday, April 30, 2023 – 07:51

James Conrad had a historic day at Disc Side of Heaven. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Spectators and players alike got to witness something incredible in Round 2 of the 2023 Play It Again Sports Jonesboro Open presented by Prodigy.

While the FPO field endured cold, rainy conditions, the rain died out and left another day of perfect scoring conditions for the MPO field.

James Conrad in particular took advantage of the opportunity at Disc Side of Heaven.

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Arkansas’ own Kat Mertsch jumped to the top of the FPO leaderboard. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Mertsch Rises to the Top

While the hot rounds didn’t break under double digits in Round 2, the FPO field still saw tight competition at the top of the leaderboard. Kat Mertsch, who just last week took a podium finish at the PDGA Champions Cup, currently leads the field at 17 strokes under par after shooting seven-under for the day. Also scoring a seven-under round, Aria Castruita follows right behind Mertsch at 16 strokes under par.

Mertsch fought through the rain, taking a bogey on Hole 2, but scoring nine birdies before taking one last bogey on Hole 18. After attempting a left-handed backhand drive on hole 8 in Round 1 that resulted in a bogey, Mertsch switched up her gameplan and threw the forehand in Round 2. While still unable to get the birdie on the hole, she improved on day two by taking a par.

When asked about her plan going into the final round, Mertsch said, “Blast it and hope it goes in, try to ace it.”

Mertsch maintained this confident mentality, seeming relaxed on the course as she cheered on her card mates despite the pressure of leading the event. This is the first time that Mertsch has held the lead at an Elite Series event, and now she has one more round to see if she can secure her first Elite Series win.

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Aria Castruita kept it cool under pressure and is in solo second place. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

As a relatively young player, we could expect Castruita to feel nerves as she makes lead card for the first time. Instead, Castruita played smart golf, staying calm and collected to keep her spot on the lead card going into the final round.

“I’m not really nervous, just having fun being on the top card finally,” Castruita said when asked if she was nervous, “I’m kind of used to the cameras so they don’t bother me.”

Missy Gannon scored eight-under and was one of just two players to avoid taking a bogey in Round 2. Gannon’s smooth round bumped her up to 3rdplace at 15 strokes under par, already surpassing her 14-under final score that got her 2nd place at the 2022 Jonesboro Open.

Despite a rough second day, Hailey King will round out the lead card on Championship Sunday. King was leading going into Round 2 but started out slow, going three-over through the first five holes. On Hole 7, King accidentally played from an incorrect lie and ended up taking one more bogey as a result. King was able to regain her focus and bounce back on the back 9, scoring five birdies and avoiding any more blemishes on her scorecard.

With only three strokes separating the top four players, the final round promises another tight finish for the 2023 FPO field.

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James Conrad runs down his birdie putt on 18. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Conrad in the Zone

“The really special rounds, sometimes it seems like the course is really helping you out a little bit here and there.”

James Conrad reminisced after shooting 17-under on Moving Day, clearing the old course record by three strokes and jumping up 21 places. The 2021 PDGA World Champ was dialed in during Round 2, scoring 15 birdies and an eagle. Conrad only had two pars on the day including the difficult Hole 5, which he intentionally played for par after birdieing the first four holes in a row.

“It’s almost hard to put the words to it but I definitely was just locked in, in the zone,” Conrad said in his trademark soft-spoken demeanor.

This historic round is tentatively rated 1103. According to StatMando, if this round stays 1100-plus rated after the official ratings process, it will be the first 1100-plus rated round at a DGPT event since Garrett Gurthie’s 1101 rated round at the 2019 MVP Open.

Conrad executed his gameplan flawlessly on most holes but still got a little love from the course a couple of times. His approach shot over the water on Hole 16 clipped a tree but kept tracking towards the basket, resulting in an eagle. Finding himself pinched off after his drive on Hole 18, Conrad’s approach shot fought through the branches to give himself a final Circle 2 putt for one last birdie.

Conrad sank the 40-ft putt, running it in to the applause of spectators and players alike. Conrad had maintained 100% Circle 1 putting and his last putt brought his Circle 2 putting to 83%.

Speaking on the last moment of his record-breaking round, Conrad said, “Feeling so good with the round, to be able to close it out strong with a good circle 2 putt felt great.”

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Eagle McMahon finished strong to grab a share of the lead heading into Sunday. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Conrad’s incredible round brought him up to 3rd place, just one stroke back of Eagle McMahon and Calvin Heimburg who ended Round 2 in a tie for first at 26 strokes under par. Last year, Heimburg and Paul McBeth went to a playoff after tying at 26-under through three rounds. Both Heimburg and McMahon have now shot bogey-free 13-under rounds two days in a row and have attributed some of their success to the calm conditions.

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Calvin Heimburg is looking for his second Elite Series win of 2023. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

“With these conditions, it’s playing very easy but the wind could pick up and it can easily go back to playing the way it was,” Heimburg said after Round 2, “I don’t think the field is just that much better this year compared to last year or the year before.”

Championship Sunday could see a return to the windy conditions we’ve seen at Disc Side of Heaven in the past. No lead has been safe for the MPO field in the 2023 season, and the current leaders will have very little breathing room going into the final round. With yet another tight leaderboard after Moving Day, it’ll take one more hot round to come out on top in the final round of the 2023 Play It Again Sports Jonesboro Open powered by Prodigy.

Catch the action on the Disc Golf Network. Active PDGA members receive a 50% discount on their DGN subscription.

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