AFP/St. Louis, US
Two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka and British Open runner-up Kevin Kisner flirted with matching the lowest round in major golf history but fell short yesterday to leave Gary Woodland in the lead at the 100th PGA Championship.
Woodland fired a four-under par 66 to stand on 10-under 130 after 36 holes to finish one stroke ahead of playing partner Kisner and two shots in front of Koepka with more than half the field yet to finish the second round at Bellerive Country Club.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were preparing for an afternoon start alongside second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas, licking their chops at the tantalising prospect of a course offering record-threatening scores.
But it was Americans Koepka and Kisner and South African Charl Schwartzel who excited the crowd early by chasing the all-time record low men’s major score of 62 set by South African Branden Grace in the third round at the 2017 British Open at par-70 Royal Birkdale.
Koepka, who started on the back nine, birdied the par-5 eighth and had a 20-foot birdie putt at the ninth for 62 but rolled it three feet past and made the comeback to shoot 63.
“I didn’t know,” Koepka said. “I was just trying to make the thing. I thought I had made it. Sometimes you are in your own mind and don’t know where you are at.”
Kisner, who also began off the 10th tee, made a six-foot birdie putt at the seventh to reach 7-under but found a bunker at the par-5 eighth and parred then at nine chipped 23 feet past the hole then two-putted for bogey and a 64.
“I’m all right with it,” Kisner said. “I knew I was playing well and had made a few birdies. I like my position going into the weekend.”
Kisner birdied six of the first nine holes but opened his second nine with six pars.
“Couldn’t have asked for a better start. I was throwing darts at it,” Kisner said. “I hit it well on the second nine. I just didn’t make any putts.”
Woodland eagled the par-5 17th, dropping his second shot five feet from the cup and holing the putt, then birdied the second and third and answered a bogey stumble at four with a 25-foot birdie putt at the eighth — all as Kisner watched.
“He’s rolling the rock and really striping it,” Kisner said. “We’re going to have a pretty good battle if I can keep up with him.”
Woodland has never finished better than 12th in 27 major starts.
Schwartzel too makes 63
Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, was too far back to threaten the lead with his run at 62 but he began the back nine with three consecutive birdies and sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th to put the record within reach.
But he found a fairway bunker and made par at the par-5 17th and left a 49-foot birdie putt five feet short for 62 at the 18th.
That left Schwartzel, who matched the tournament record with a 63, level with world number one Dustin Johnson on 133 with South African Brandon Stone seventh on 134.
On the prospect of a 62 he said: “I didn’t know there was that. I would have liked that.”
Spieth seven off the pace
Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, ranked eighth, can complete a career Grand Slam with a victory this week. But the 25-year-old American shot 67 to stand on 137.
Koepka defended his US Open crown in June at Shinnecock, the first back-to-back US Open winner since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.
Kisner, whose two PGA wins came in 2015, shared seventh in last year’s PGA and that had been his best major showing until his British Open success.
Woods, a 14-time major champion in his comeback season after spinal fusion surgery, drew Thursday’s largest crowds with Thomas and McIlroy. But Woods and McIlroy grinded out par 70s to share 48th place with Thomas only on 69.
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