How the PGA Championship’s first two rounds have impacted the tournament
With two rounds in the books at Quail Hollow following a weather-related delay on Friday afternoon and a suspension of play on Friday evening that led to a little Saturday morning second round play, the leaderboard is already starting to take shape. Only twenty golfers are even par or better after two rounds, and with the lead at -8 that narrows down the number of golfers who might have hopes of winning 2017’s final major championship.
Hideki Matsuyama enters the weekend in a tie for the lead at -8 with Kevin Kisner. It’s an appropriate position for Matsuyama, who finished in the top ten of all three of the other major tournaments this season and has been one of the PGA Tour’s most consistent players throughout the season.
Matsuyama’s ball-striking is truly remarkable. When he’s on, he’ll hit reliably accurate shots with reliably underwhelmed reactions. It is rare to see Hideki Matsuyama like a golf shot off the club, a strange body language to carry for such a talented young player. That said, he hasn’t been known to have much of a temper, either.
That steadiness was on full display on Friday. Matsuyama was making a run up the leaderboard on the back nine, stringing together a number of birdies, when the infamous horn started to blow. A suspension of play due to weather lasted a little over an hour, and it was worth wondering whether that interruption would stop any momentum on the course. For Matsuyama, not so much, as he immediately birdied the fifteenth after the delay and added a birdie on the par 3 17th for good measure.
Jason Day was not quite as lucky after the rain. Between holes 7 and 14, Day was six under par, getting to -6 for the tournament, when the delay interrupted his birdie parade. He’ll start Saturday’s round at -6, within striking distance of the lead.
Day is another member of golf’s staggering class of incredible golfers under the age of 30, and he fits the friendly profile that the young Tour is cutting. He has made runs at majors before, and he continues a tradition of champion golfers from Australia.
Between the rain on Friday afternoon and steady rain throughout the night, Quail Hollow is going to become much more of a risk/reward kind of a golf course. The greens will be soft and receptive, rewarding accurate aggressiveness in a big way. However, the wet conditions will make the rough particularly heavy, and the sprawling greens will be active if slow, so the course will punish wayward shots even more than it has coming into the weekend.
This equates to a gripping moving day. With the ball striking on display from Matsuyama and Day, people at the top of the leaderboard could put up some deeply red numbers on Saturday. Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, both -3, set up well for the new risk equation.
Looking at the leaderboard, two names might stick out at a person as being a bit new to the major championship hunt. Kevin Kisner, co-leader entering Saturday, is 33 and has two PGA Tour wins to his credit. The closest he’s come to winning a large tournament was falling in a playoff at the 2015 Players Championship. He got his card from success on the Web.com tour, having won there twice. He has never finished in the top ten at a major tournament.
Two shots back and playing with Jason Day today, Chris Stroud is a 35 year old PGA Tour veteran who struggled early in his career to stay out of Q-school. He earned his card for good in 2009, and to this point in his career he has one PGA Tour win to his credit. The good news: That win was last week, winning the Barracuda Championship in a playoff. Stroud has made the cut just two times at major championships.
Stroud and Kisner are in with a real chance to win this thing, but they’ll need to hold off a charge today and make something happen on Sunday to do it. In a way, they represent what’s unique about the PGA Championship; the idea that any card-carrying Tour member could string together a good weekend and win it. The PGA, after all, is the major where club pros qualify and compete. It is a great place for the golfers who have had to tough it out for their whole careers to make a name for themselves.
In the top ten at the PGA Championship through Friday, there are five continents represented. The only two missing are South America and, of course, Antarctica. In the top twenty teams in the current FIFA World Ranking, only three continents are represented.
The World’s Game, at the end of the day, is completely dominated by South American and European teams, players, coaches, strategies, and professional leagues. There has never been a World Cup champion from anywhere else. There has never been a Club World Cup winner from anywhere else, either.
Once again, despite the game’s problematic requirements in terms of land and equipment, golf has proven capable of traveling around the world and then some. This is often on display in majors, where you tend to notice plenty of great golfers from places not exactly known for their prowess on the pitch.
Jordan Spieth will probably not finish his career grand slam this weekend at Quail Hollow. He’s going to make the cut, but he’s ten shots back of the leaders and it would take both a historic charge and a historic collapse for Spieth to have any sort of chance.
Spieth can be an adventure, as he demonstrated on the back nine on Friday afternoon. He spent a hole bouncing from treeline to treeline, having that running conversation with caddie Michael Greller all the while. That seemed to be the end of his PGA Championship hopes. A back nine charge would have put Spieth in contention, but such a charge never came. Spieth finished Friday’s round at +3, making the cut but only barely.