NORTON — The morning came up overcast with damp air but without wind. Roberto Castro began Saturday at 6 under par with an 8:16 a.m. tee time and a lovely opportunity to shoot another nice number. “I kind of figured, front nine is pretty scorable,” he reckoned, “and we started in perfect conditions.”
So he went out and put up another bunch of red numbers at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston — seven birdies and an eagle — that added up to another 65 and put him in a tie for second with Henrik Stenson at 12 under, one stroke behind leader Sergio Garcia. “Sometimes you can get it going in those morning rounds and I did,” said the 28-year-old Georgia Tech grad, who has been positioning himself for a homecoming trip for the Tour Championship in Atlanta in a few weeks.
Thus proceeds another weekend in the education and evolution of a PGA professional. This is Castro’s second year on the tour, long enough to have it feel familiar to play alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy, his partner for the first two days. “I’m more comfortable in pairings with some of the top players in the world, and that just comes with experience,” said Castro, who’ll be paired with Garcia for the third round on Sunday afternoon.
What Castro understands is that it is not about who you’re playing with or who hasn’t yet teed up. It’s about you and your game and what you can do on the course on the day. “That was what I was most excited about when I got my Tour card, was to find out what my good golf looked like, whether that would be make a cut, a win or a missed cut,” he said. “You don’t know until you play out here.”
Castro, whose aunt Jenny Lidback played on the LPGA Tour, grew up in Houston, came out of Tech with a degree in industrial engineering and spent five years working his way up the apprentice ladder. He has more than $750,000 in earnings and has doubled that so far this year.
Castro dropped a calling card in the opening round of The Players Championship in May, shredding the stadium course at Sawgrass with a 9-under 63 that matched the record shared by Fred Couples and Greg Norman. The next day he shot 78 and ended the weekend tied for 19th.
One shot, one round, one tournament, one year has no bearing on the next one. McIlroy, the former US Open and PGA champion who was Player of the Year last year, has been struggling. On Saturday he shot 71 with a double-bogey seven on the final hole and is sitting tied for 67th. Brian Davis, who’d shared the lead with Phil Mickelson after the opening round, was 1 over on Saturday and dropped to 20th. Mickelson scrambled to shoot par and is tied for ninth.
Castro came out firing, launching an approach shot from 242 yards on the par-5 second hole that landed 36 feet from the pin, then rolled it in for eagle. “Just one of those putts that looked like the higher up the hill you hit it the more it would come down,” he said. “I figured if I get it there, it looked like it was going to go in the whole way.”
Castro, who needed only a dozen putts on the front and 27 total, followed with three consecutive birdies. On the ninth hole, as he waited to sink an 8-footer for his fifth birdie on the front to go to 13 under, Castro actually emitted a yawn. The day and the conditions were giving, so he was taking.
For a couple of holes on the back, Castro was on the receiving end with a bogey on 13 and a double on 14. After his drive on the 14th landed in the right rough with a bad lie, he took a gamble in going for the green and nearly put the ball in the cross bunker. “That was a dumb decision,” acknowledged Castro, who concluded he should have pitched out instead.
But it wasn’t damaging. Garcia had doubled the hole as well and other contenders made bogey on a par-4 that with the tee and pin placements, was playing around 530 yards. “There’s a lot of hard holes out here,” said Castro. “You’re going to make bogeys, so I wasn’t too concerned.”
Not after he closed with two birdies in his last three holes. The first, on the par-3 water hole on 16, came on a 33-foot downhill putt. “That’s always a good hole to make a birdie on,” said Castro, who’d also done it on Friday. “That’s probably the signature hole out here.”
The final birdie came on 18, the course’s other signature hole, a 530-yard par-5 with a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway and junk in front of the green. After his approach went into the rough, Castro chipped to within 3 feet, then drained it. The game is the same as it was in college, the same as it is for every duffer on a pockmarked muni. “Everybody’s good golf looks similar,” Castro said. “Hit it straight, make putts. There’s no mystery or magic to good golf out here. It doesn’t make it easy.”
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.