Shane Lowry leads Irish charge at US PGA as play is suspended
Gary Woodland tops the board as day two play is cancelled to resume Saturday
Shane Lowry plays his shot from the 11th tee during the second round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
It’s a Major, but not as we know it. Tradition has it that these championships contrive to ask the toughest of questions; but, this time, the weather gods deemed otherwise in providing a soft course – and the sort of target golf prophesied by Rory McIlroy – that led to a birdie fest in the second round at this 100th US PGA at Bellerieve Country Club in the western suburbs of St. Louis.
The roars that resounded around the course bore raucous testimony to how the players tore the track apart, although a threat of lightning – with the second wave of players well advanced – brought some respite for the beleaguered course.
And, although one of those big-hitters, Gary Woodland retained his position atop the leader board, the generous splattering of birdies elsewhere ensured little room for any comfort for the 34-year-old American. Woodland shot a 66 to reach the midpoint on 10-under-par 130, a tournament low record for 36 holes, but even that notable achievement was insufficient to enable him escape his pursuers.
On a day of stifling heat, there was barely time for anyone to draw breath. Brooks Koepka shot a 63 but, even then, had to share bragging rights with Charl Schwartzel, who also signed for that number. Kevin Kisner had that score in his sights too, only to bogey his finishing hole for a 64. World number one Dustin Johnson – with seven birdies on his back nine – too trended upwardly, with a 66. All in pursuit, all poised to attack.
Among those stopped in their tracks by the sound of the siren with electric energy in the air above Bellerive were Shane Lowry, McIlroy and Tiger Woods. Lowry picked up three birdies in a faultless front nine to move to four-under for the championship (through 28 holes), while Woods too had his putter going and had moved to three-under (picking up three birdies in seven holes) but McIlroy was stuck on even-par with a run of seven straight pars in his second round.
Pádraig Harrington (even on his round through eight holes and one-over for the championship) and Paul Dunne (one over on his round through six holes and four-over for the championship) were outside the cut line and will need to hit the birdie trail on the resumption.
Play was eventually suspended following two hours of rain with a decision to resume play at 7am Saturday (1pm Irish), and a decision made to have the third round played in three-balls (rather than pairs) and using a two-tee start.
For Woodland – a player without a top-10 in any Major through his career – the newly acquired putting grip and technique, fashioned only in recent works in working with putting guru Phil Kenyon at the behest of his manager Mark Steinberg, has worked wonders if the truth be told. Always recognised for his length off-the-tee, with a compact short swing capable of generating terrific speed, the 6-feet 4-inch Woodland’s key to contending has come with confidence with the putter in hand.
“For me as a whole, the putter was the last piece of the puzzle. Butch (Harmon) and I focused so hard this year on driving the golf ball because, when I drive it in play, I’m playing a game a lot of guys aren’t. That’s a huge advantage. Once that started to come around, really the putting was the last piece. When I see putts go in, I’m a completely different player, especially with how aggressive as I am playing right now,” confessed Woodland.
If anything demonstrated his advantage with driver in hand at this time, it came on the Par 5 17th – playing to 591 yards in the second round – where he became the first player to roll in an eagle putt. But it was what went before the putt that encapsulated his ability to overpower the course: off his drive, he hit a 3-wood approach – “I was telling it to go” – which narrowly cleared the bunker guarding the green and then rolled up to five feet. He sank the putt.
“He’s a great player. He can get very hot with the putter, and he’s got a very good attitude, just in general. A lot of times, when you’ve been out there for a long period of time, you tend to get a little, I don’t want to say miserable, but upset with yourself over silly things, and he’s got a great attitude about everything,” said Schwartzel of Woodland.
Nobody has a hand on the Wanamaker Trophy, not even Woodland. All he had to do was cast an eye over his shoulder at the cast of characters in pursuit to realise the task ahead. Kevin Kisner, increasingly comfortable in the Major championships, produced a 64 that moved him to 131 and just one stroke adrift.
“All I know is if I hit it in the fairway and hit it on the green and make the putt I’m probably going to have a good shot at it. That’s all I’m going to keep trying to do. I’m not going to get too caught up in it,” said Kisner in his most laid-back of replies about chasing down Woodland.
Koepka was a bit more forthcoming. “I’m just trying to win this week, that’s the only thing I’m worried about, winning this week,” said Koepka, who missed the Masters back in April after a three-month lay-off due to wrist. In June, though, he made it back-to-back US Open wins and, with his power off the tee, has again manoeuvred his way into contending in this latest Major.
One man, though, is headed into new territory. Woodland’s best ever finish in a Major came in the 2011 US PGA – a tied-12th finish – but he appeared unfazed about the weekend ahead. “I’m very happy with where I’m at. I’m very comfortable with how I’m driving the ball. The iron game, the distance control has been phenomenal. And when I stand over a golf ball putting as comfortable as I am, I’m pretty excited.”
He didn’t say it, but his demeanour was one that suggested he was ready to take on all-comers.
Early completed second round scores when play was suspended (US unless stated, par 70)
130 Gary Woodland 64 66
131 Kevin Kisner 67 64
132 Brooks Koepka 69 63
133 Dustin Johnson 67 66, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 70 63, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 67 66
134 Brandon Stone (Rsa) 66 68
135 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 68 67, Jason Kokrak 68 67, Adam Scott (Aus) 70 65, Jon Rahm (Spa) 68 67, Patrick Cantlay 68 67
136 Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 69 67, Zach Johnson 66 70, Justin Rose (Eng) 67 69
137 Andrew Putnam 68 69, Matt Wallace (Eng) 71 66, Jordan Spieth 71 66
138 Daniel Berger 73 65, Chris Kirk 68 70, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 73 65, Andrew Landry 73 65, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 70 68, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 71 67
139 Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) 71 68, Chris Stroud 69 70, Chez Reavie 71 68, Kevin Na 70 69, Joaquin Niemann (Chi) 68 71, Russell Henley 74 65, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 69 70, Marc Leishman (Aus) 68 71, Brice Garnett 71 68, Russell Knox (Sco) 71 68
140 Nick Watney 75 65, Seung-su Han 74 66, Ted Potter, Jr. 74 66, Ben Kern 71 69, Adrian Otaegui (Spa) 73 67, Kevin Chappell 69 71
141 Brendan Steele 73 68, Luke List 71 70, Kyle Stanley 68 73, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 70 71, Matt Kuchar 71 70
142 Justin Harding (Rsa) 72 70, Whee Kim (Kor) 75 67, Bill Haas 72 70, Alex Noren (Swe) 71 71, Shaun Micheel 73 69
143 John Daly 73 70, Charley Hoffman 72 71, Patrick Reed 72 71, Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 70 73
144 Chris Wood (Eng) 70 74, Ryuko Tokimatsu (Jpn) 73 71, Jason Dufner 72 72, Aaron Wise 76 68, Beau Hossler 73 71, Paul Broadhurst (Eng) 74 70
145 Zachary J Johnson 76 69, Kelly Kraft 71 74
146 Ryan Vermeer 73 73
147 Matt Dobyns 76 71, Yong-eun Yang (Kor) 73 74, Daniel Balin 72 75
148 Omar Uresti 75 73, Paul Casey (Eng) 75 73, Bubba Watson 70 78, Chesson Hadley 75 73, Matthew Borchert 74 74
149 Si Woo Kim (Kor) 72 77
150 Marty Jertson 76 74, Michael Kim 73 77, Brian Smock 79 71
151 Jaysen Hansen 76 75, Johan Kok (Rsa) 78 73
152 Jorge Campillo (Spa) 78 74