What a strange turn of events in the second round at the PGA Championship. As Conor noted, there was a distinct lack of atmosphere at Atlanta Athletic Club, and even though he was watching from across the pond in Dublin, Ireland, I was quite impressed with how well he captured the mood.
Call the medley of names at the leaderboard what you’d like — the most popular (and blunt) descriptions I’ve heard range from “no names” to “anonymous pros mixed in with veterans” to “the worst ever at major since the ’03 US Open.” A more tactful approach would be “fresh faces” or “young talent and reserved 40-somethings.”
Keegan Bradley, who shot a spectacular bogey-free 64, and Jason Dufner, who posted a 65, leaped out of anonymity and atop the leaderboard at the midway point at five-under for the championship. DA Points, John Senden, Jim Furyk and Scott Verplank trail by one. Anders Hansen, Brendan Steele and first-round leader Steve Stricker make up the group at three-under.
Quick! — Name five facts each about Hansen or Steele or Dufner. Can’t do it? It’s okay, I’d be more concerned if you could.
What to make of the leaderboard at the Bell South Classic? I mean, the PGA Championship? Well, going into the week, the word was that length and good ballstriking were keys to tackling AAC. In reality, the most important factor is simple: Accuracy and more accuracy, which also means stay out of the Bermuda rough and avoid the bunkers at all costs.
With the exception of Keegan, the rest of the guys in the top ten aren’t long hitters. In fact, it’s hardly an advantage to be a bomber. Bunters might actually be better off because they can’t reach the trouble from the tee, particularly the nightmarish fairway bunkers, with the super soft sand that has been driving the pros crazy (just ask Tiger Woods).
Guys with over-sized egos won’t win this one. Patience has been emphasized so much that it’s become cliche. Though it’s true, things could still go awry coming down the stretch.
I walked with Rory McIlroy for most of his round and it was just kind of blah. He played better than he scored. He drove the ball nicely, but he missed a lot of putts. He misjudged the wind on the par-3 17th, leading to a triple-bogey. It was frustrating for the 22-year-old, but good news is that it’s not too painful playing with his injured wrist. From my perspective, he just never got built enough momentum to get the round going in the right direction.
There was something in the air — and it wasn’t electrifying. In fact, it felt like just the opposite. Maybe it was the oppressive heat. Or the tough setup. Well, one thing’s for sure, the tournament is wide open and for the taking. I like Adam Scott. Maybe Lee Westwood. And even rookie Keegan Bradley, who is playing in his first major. Just anyone besides D.A. Points or Anders Hansen, please!
Oh, right, the pictures, courtesy of Insidetheropes.com’s Kyle Auclair. They say a picture is worth a thousand words — another dull cliche, but hey, it’s true. Enjoy…
First, we kicked off the day with Rory Wrist Watch. It didn’t appear to impede his swing, aside from the mental hurdle. But it felt uncomfortable and he constantly fidgeted and stretched it.
There’s a nice stretch. Pretty flexible still.
Ugh. Jason Day kicked off his round with three birdies in his first six holes. Then he reached the final three holes, which he played three-over on Thursday. He doubled the 16th and then birdied the 17th, only to follow it with a double for the second day in a row on 18. Day is going to have nightmares about that stretch. After he turned nine, he fell apart on the second nine. A shame. He was my favorite heading into the week.
Meanwhile, Lee Westwood, who is probably the best player in the world without a major (and I don’t mean any disrespect), is still very much in the tournament at one-under.
Most of the focus was on McIlroy on Friday morning, but Westy quietly played his way to a respectable 68 (dropped one on his 17th hole, unfortunately). He looked confident:
Different story for Steve Stricker in the second round. After his major record-tying seven-under 63 on Thursday, Stricker missed eight putts within 12 feet and shot a disappointing 74. Still time to recover with two rounds to go. I don’t think anyone would mind seeing him capture his first major and cry on the 18th green.
Steve Williams was playing well until he reached the 18th. I mean, Adam Scott, who double-bogeyed the final (dumb) hole after an errant drive and punching out through the fairway into the water hazard guarding the green. A real shame after his sizzling start. He had a share of the lead at one point, but he finished the second round at two-under total.
Looks like he likes that shot as he watches it in the air. Scott has a good swagger coming off his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week. Let’s hope he has more magic left for the weekend.
Scott Verplank: Nice guy, good veteran player…but…what? Sorry, I just dozed off.
Gary Woodland, who won the Transitions Championship in March, was on his way to a great round until he triple-bogeyed the 18th to finish even par. That’s the look of angst, frustration, etc.
I have a soft spot for the 18-year-old Matteo Manassero, who is the nicest, most polite kid and mature beyond his years. He shot two-under on Thursday and made the turn on Friday at even for the day, but then lost steam on the back. He also had trouble on the 18th and carded a triple, dropping three more strokes to post a 74.
Good form, Manny!
Then there’s the Cat, who missed his first cut in 14 starts at a PGA Championship and only the 7th cut of his career.
Who was that 10-handicapper who bore a resemblance to Tiger Woods hacking it around out there today?! For the love of God. He shot 73, but it felt like an 80. He was in roughly 21 bunkers and had four or five water balls. And those snap-hooks on 12 that led to the double-bogey on 12 was just ludicrous. It was also his second consecutive double.
THE BEST GOLFER EVER appeared like he was completely lost at AAC. He didn’t even look like Tiger Woods.
He seemed almost humbled. Apparently not humble enough to play Greensboro or other second-tier PGA Tour events, though. Woods won’t make the FedEx Cup playoffs. He’s done on the PGA Tour for the season unless he decides to play a Fall Series event and that’ll happen when hell freezes over.
Finally, the player of the day: Keegan Bradley. Spectacular 64 to soar to the top of the leaderboard. Again, it’s his first major! Last week at his first WGC event he was in contention until he fell apart coming down the stretch. We can chalk that round up to a “learning experience.”
Keegan admitted to realizing he had the chance to shoot the best round at a major and let it enter his mind.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but it did,” he said. “I had about a ten-footer on 8, and I’m thinking, ‘Boy, if I could make this, 9 is a birdie hole, I’ve got a shot at this.’ That’s probably about the worst thing I could have thought of at the time.”
And then he provided the quote of the day.
“I made the turn, and I played the front, which was my back, last, and I’m near the lead, and there’s nobody out there because I’m on the wrong side (since everyone was watching Tiger on the other nine). It felt like a Hooters Tour event. It was great.
“It was a relaxing atmosphere. It didn’t feel like a major, to be honest with you.”
Obviously, he didn’t mean that in a negative manner. He just meant the low-key setting lent itself to a chill environment and helped him to feel more comfortable. Either way, very impressive performance.
Alright, moving day tomorrow. Good news is, the leaderboard can’t get any more uninteresting.
(Photos by Kyle Auclair/insidetheropes.com)