Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. It was supposed to be a Friday night primetime showdown between arguably the Greatest of All Time and two of the game's top-ranked players. Instead, what we got was a slow, arduous slog.
Day two at the PGA Championship in San Francisco once again saw players in the morning wave set the scoring pace, but as the conditions toughened in the afternoon, the game’s biggest names struggled, some battling to make the cut.
TPC Harding Park played like two different golf courses on Friday with Jason Day, who sits at 6-under par following an afternoon round of 69, saying the greens firmed up and started turning purple which led to a ton of approach shots bouncing and rolling in to the lush rough.
Haotong Li is your 36-hole leader at the PGA at TPC Harding Park after a morning round of 65. Li leads a group of six golfers by two strokes at 8-under par on a day where low numbers were available. Tommy Fleetwood and Cameron Champ put together the low rounds of the day with 64, but it was the higher numbers that were attention-grabbing.
The primetime trio of Woods, McIlroy and Thomas were a combined 1-over par on the day, with Rory the only player under par for the tournament. Tiger sits eight shots back at even par while Justin Thomas, the newly crowned number one player in the world, made the cut on the number at 1-over par.
Here’s three takeaways from round two of the PGA Championship.
Who is Haotong Li?
Haotong Li set the tone early on Friday, with a bogey-free 65 to grab the lead at 8-under par. The little-known 25-year old from China has three international victories over his career but has never won on the PGA Tour. In fact, Li has played in just 25 Tour sanctioned events over his seven years as a professional, with his highest finish a 3rd place at the 2017 Open Championship.
Surprised that Li sits atop the leaderboard? Well, so is Haotong, who is trying to become the first player from China to win a major championship. “I've got no expectation actually,” said Li who has just one bogey through two rounds. “Because you know the last few months, stayed at home doing nothing. I just want to be out here and have fun.”
A simple approach, though he clearly knows what’s on the line. A full six hours after his round at TPC Harding Park, Li was seen on the putting green and driving range working on his game.
Concern for Koepka?
While two-time defending champ Brooks Koepka sits in fine position at 6-under par after a second-round 68, there has to be concern over his physical condition. Koepka was shown getting treatment on his left leg multiple times Friday afternoon. The man stretching and maneuvering Koepka was Marc Wahl, Koepka’s physio trainer for the past five years.
Koepka underwent stem cell treatment for a torn patella in his left knee after last year’s Tour Championship. He then re-aggravated the injury in October when he slipped on wet pavement at the CJ Cup in South Korea. As recent as a few weeks ago, the world No. 6 admitted the knee still wasn’t right, saying he underwent an MRI and “Nothing is improved, it’s still the same.”
After the round Koepka said that it was his hip that was being worked on and that he woke up with some tightness that he couldn’t loosen throughout the day.
There’s no debating Koepka is a physical specimen built to win major championships. But can a nicked-up Brooks battle through a nagging injury and still contend at the PGA? Koepka is certainly showing he can gut it out, sitting just 2 strokes off the lead. Whether his left leg can hold up for 36 more holes certainly bears watching.
Fowler’s costly mishap
The bonehead moment of the tournament thus far goes to Rickie Fowler, who missed the cut at the PGA by one shot. Missed cuts happen, but this one was inexcusable.
Fowler’s miscue came on the par-4 sixth hole. Left with a six-inch tap in for bogey, Rickie strolled up to his ball and nearly whiffed at the short putt, moving it one inch. He then finished up the hole with a five-inch tap-in for double bogey. The putt cost Fowler at least $20,000 (lowest amount for making the cut), as he finished at 2-over par and is heading home.
Now 31 years old, Fowler’s quest for a first major title continues to drag on. Rickie has eleven career top-tens in major championships over his career, including three runner-ups. The missed cut is his first at a major since the 2016 U.S. Open, snapping a stretch of 14 consecutive cuts made.
Two things to keep an eye on in Round 3:
1) Following a second-round 67, Dustin Johnson has quietly played himself into contention. Can DJ make a run at that elusive PGA Championship and find redemption after giving away the Wannamaker Trophy in 2010?
2) Don’t sleep on Daniel Berger, who is one of six players just two shots off the lead. Berger’s 67 on Friday was one of the best of the afternoon wave. The 27-year-old entered this week as one of the hottest golfers on tour over the past six months and is set up to contend on Sunday.