Hey, golf fans, great news: You can watch the NFL playoff games this weekend without worrying that you’re missing much at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, thanks to Jordan Spieth. The 2015 Masters and U.S. Open champion opened up a four-shot lead at the halfway mark of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions after firing a nine-under 64 to follow up his effort of 64 the day earlier.
It appears Spieth is starting 2016 right where he left off in 2015: Winning.
“I felt comfortable enough hitting my driver,” he said. “I don’t feel a hundred percent major championship form necessarily, but I’m feeling like I’m keeping it — I’ve got good start lines on it, enough to where I felt like I could pull those drives off and it led to two birdies and possibly at least a stroke and a half, I think on those two holes (nos. 13 and 14). So I’m really happy with the way we have been picking apart this golf course and still staying aggressive.”
The conditions at Kapalua have been unusually calm during the first two rounds. On Friday it felt like the pros were playing in a dome because there was so little wind at a venue that is notorious for being blustery. That might account for the speed of the grainy Bermuda-grass greens, which several players have noted are extremely slow.
Spieth, known for letting out his frustration openly on the golf course and constantly talking to his ball out loud, was annoyed with the pace of the greens. In fact, he went as far as saying they were the slowest he’s ever encountered on the PGA Tour.
He voiced his irritation on the par-3 11th after he left his lag putt 4-5 feet short of the hole. As he walked up to mark his ball, he said, Unbelievable! It must be (rolling at) 9 (on the stimpmeter).”
He expanded in his post-round presser: “The hardest part is you just say, okay, why don’t you just hit them harder. Well, we have all played this golf course where when you’re putting it towards the back of the green, towards the ocean, it just shoots away from you. You’re just waiting for one of those. And I didn’t have any of them, so 16 I finally get aggressive on and it shoots away from you.”
On the par-4 16th, Spieth made a crucial par save after lagging his birdie attempt to six feet. Earlier this week, he noted he and his coach had identified in the (short) offseason that the biggest room for improvement with his game was his wedge play (which was a bit of a surprise to most of us). He tugged the punch wedge he hit into 16, which left him with 35 feet from the hole.
“That’s exactly what I’ve been working a lot on is those — taking a little extra club and trying to punch wedges in there, getting the right distance control down,” he said. “That’s where my biggest room for improvement was in the off season, we found. And I’ve actually hit a lot of really good wedges this week and that one just wasn’t one of them.
“I was trying to do too much instead of just hitting this little punch, punch draw, the straight ball I’ve been hitting. I was trying to bleed a 52 in. I don’t really know why I wanted to do it, I just tried to do it and I double crossed it.”
That moment was when he felt the most stressed all day.
“16 was more stressful than 17 today,” he said after identifying those two as the toughest holes on the course for him. “Just given I had 105 yards in the middle of the fairway to a pin in the dead center of the green where everything falls towards it. You could give me a bucket of balls and I couldn’t hit one outside of where I hit that wedge.
“You get anyone here [gesturing at the media] — no one’s going to hit a shot further away than I hit that shot. No one. Not even you.”
Kevin Kisner, Fabian Gomez and Patrick Reed are the closest to catching Spieth, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he expanded on his lead during the third round. Catch him if you can!
Interesting insight from Spieth:
Q. You hit a shot you want 280 or 290 or 300 yards. Are you a switch on, switch off kind of guy? Or when you’re playing a hole, are you in it the entire hole?
JORDAN SPIETH: Typically in it the entire hole. I’m not hit the shot, okay, everything behind me is done. What do I have next?
I’m more get on a tee box. I need to hit this to here to have the best angle to here to — I know when I strike it, my tee shot, I know about what I’m going to have into the green and where the pin is. And on that walk up there I’m thinking that’s what I have. I get up there, if I can walk up to the green and see it, if not, assess what club it is, where the next putt’s going to be from. Yeah I would say, as I’m walking I’m still in each hole in my head even if I am talking about something completely different.
Playing alongside Spieth for the second consecutive day, defending champion Patrick Reed posted a bogey-free 69. Spieth and Reed are the only two players without a bogey through 36 holes.
“I feel like yesterday was a really solid day,” said Reed, who trails Spieth by four strokes. “Today, I felt like I didn’t quite hit the ball solid like I needed to and because of that, even though I was hitting a lot of greens, I wasn’t hitting it as close as yesterday.
“So I had some longer putts and unfortunately, today I didn’t really roll many in and didn’t have any kick-in birdies. So, but, any time you can be 12-under through two rounds, within shouting distance of the lead, you have to take it and just go on to tomorrow.”
Similar to Spieth, Reed also noted the slow pace of the greens.
“They can be challenging,” he said. “Today they seemed really slow. Jordan and I early had a hard time getting the ball to the hole. But once you got that down and adapted, after the first three, you think after you leave the first three short you might have to hit the ball a little harder. Unfortunately I didn’t get it in my head…
“I’m playing well, I just need to go out and play aggressive and have a good weekend.”
You know he’ll come out fired up to catch Spieth on Saturday morning.
If you ask me who I think is the coolest guy on the PGA Tour, I’ll answer “Kevin Kisner” (aka “Kiz”) every time. The 31-year-old from Aiken, South Carolina, had a breakout season in 2014-15. He started quite the run when he played some clutch golf to get into a playoff against Jim Furyk at the RBC Heritage, but ended up losing to the veteran on the third extra hole. The following month, he found himself in a playoff at The Players Championship and nearly won, if it hadn’t been for the eleventh-hour heroics by Rickie Fowler. He got into a third playoff at the Greenbrier Classic, where he also came up just short of his first PGA Tour victory.
Though he finished 2014-15 season without a win, his consolation prize was making it to the Tour Championship, along with earning an invite to the Masters. Kisner grew up and still lives in nearby Aiken, South Carolina, which is about 40 minutes from Augusta, Georgia. He’s probably played Augusta National about 12 times and took his dad to play the coveted course on December 20th as a Christmas present. He has two more scouting trips planned prior to his maiden Masters appearance — one in February and the other the week before the first major of the year.
Kisner kicked off the 2015-16 season right where he left off. He finished solo second at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. He finally got that elusive first victory at the RSM Classic, the last official event of 2015, which secured him a spot into this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Kisner opened with a four-under 69 and followed up that effort with an eight-under 65, which, believe it or not, could have been even lower, as he missed two or three short, makable putts inside of eight feet.
“I played solid all day,” he said. “I gave myself a lot of chances early. I left a few out there with some shorties that I missed coming in, but it was a good day.
“First tournament of the year, kind of rusty, haven’t played in a while, and seeing where my game is and looking forward to having a chance on the weekend.”
This is Kisner’s first start since winning at Sea Island in late November. He hasn’t had an extended period of time off, but he had quite a few three-day work weeks in the offseason. Kisner has been staying in Sea Island, Georgia, the past couple of months, while his home in Aiken, located on the 17th hole at Palmetto Golf Club — is being renovated (by his dad, who is a contractor). He described himself as being “homeless right now,” and he’s been staying with his parents and in hotels.
As a good ol’ Southern boy, Kisner isn’t as perplexed by the Bermuda greens when he has a putter in his hand, but he needs to work on his wedge game.
“I can’t figure out if I need to be more shallow or steeper or — hopefully my coach (John Tillery) is watching and he can tell me tonight,” said Kisner.
“I really haven’t hit my wedges that great. Because I’m not sure of the contact. But I see it more out of the fairways than the greens. I grew up on this greens, so I don’t read grain or anything like you hear all these guys talk about. I just look at it and putt.”
I feel like I should have a pretty good sense of Kisner’s game, but I was scratching my head when trying to think of which part stands out. When I asked him, he said, “Nothing.” He laughed, but he was somewhat serious, which was what sort of the answer I suspected.
“I drive it pretty straight and I try to make a lot of putts,” said Kisner. “I can’t afford to hit it crooked. I can’t afford to not make putts. Because I don’t hit it 350 (yards).”
He beamed when he noted that he did hit it past Bubba Watson on the 17th on Friday, though.
“I smoked it by Bubba on 17. Look it up!” said Kisner, with a big smile. “I talked trash the whole way down. Then he hit it 70 (yards) by me on 18.
“I just know my role, so that’s why I play the certain courses I play. Last year I played great at all the courses I have to play great at.”
Meanwhile, Kisner knows it’ll be tough to chase down Spieth this weekend.
“What is Jordan at?” he asked. “I saw he was at 15(-under) last I saw. So it he’ll probably shoot another 15, so I better get going tomorrow. The way he plays. I don’t know. We’ll just make a bunch of birdies and see what happens.”
The greens at Kapalua are the largest at any other PGA Tour venue, but it’s still impressive when someone goes 36/36 in hitting greens in regulation. Fabian Gomez, who is tied for third at 12-under, did just that in the first two rounds.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 9, 2016
Rickie Fowler and Danny Lee have a bit of a history of trading parking lot pranks. The two started to engage in similar shenanigans at Kapalua, but it didn’t end so well for Lee.
I ran into him in the hotel last night and stopped to chat for a minute. When I asked him how the prank war was going, he said not so well. Why? Well, Danny explained that he wrote something on Rickie’s courtesy vehicle, but he used a Sharpie pen, a permanent marker, which means it left permanent damage. He started to walk away, looking embarrassed as he said, “Now I have to pay for it…”
However, Lee is having a pretty good tournament so far on his first trip to Maui. He’s posted rounds of 67-68 to kick off the first half of the event.