43 players within seven of the lead
Through the first two days, the Cypress Trees and Lake Merced have provided the perfect backdrop for the year’s first major championship.
TPC Harding Park has been a fair and firm test for the world’s best players at the 2020 PGA Championship. Some have thrived, while others were left perplexed and frustrated by the combination of firm greens and Bay Area wind.
The usual suspects populate the top of the leaderboard with Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Jason Day all sitting at 6-under-par, two shots back of 36-hole leader Haotong Li.
TPC Harding Park showed its teeth Friday, as those that went out early Thursday morning faced a different golf course in Round 2.
Day jaunted around TPC Harding Park effortlessly in Round 1 en route to a bogey-free 5-under-65. On Friday, he had to scratch and claw to post a 1-under-69. Koepka fought through a tight hip and an uncertain putter to follow his first-round 66 with a 2-under-par-68.
“It's a big golf course,” Day said after his round. “It's a big-boy golf course. The strange thing is when we have the southwesterly wind there's a lot of side-wind golf shots, so you have to really control your ball flight. If you’re comfortable hitting a fade, it would be great into the right-to-left winds and then you're starting it way left on the left-to-right winds, so there's a good mix of right-to-left holes with wind and left-to-right holes with wind, so you have to be committed to your swing or the shot that you’re actually trying to play.
“Obviously you add all that into it and it's a major championship,” Day continued. “That's where I think a lot of the guys feel a lot more pressure, and usually when you have a tough golf course like this, it kind of separates the really -- the guys that are really playing well right now, compared to the guys that are, you know, kind of just on the cusp of playing well.”
There were fireworks a plenty Friday on Laker Merced. Fleetwood and Cameron Champ both shot 6-under for the day, while Li carded a 65 to jump into the outright lead.
Rory McIlroy went scalding hot for an hour, birdieing four straight holes to climb to 3-under-par for the tournament. But a triple-bogey at No. 12 dropped him back to even par and he finished his second round seven shots back of LI at 1-under.
After pouring in putts from all over the course on Thursday, Tiger Woods couldn’t buy a putt on Friday. Woods shot a 2-over-par 72 to drop to even on the tournament. But the 15-time-major champion believes the course is set up for someone to make a big weekend move.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Woods said when asked if he expects some big swings over the weekend. “This golf course is --with the dots for tomorrow, they've got them in some tough spots. Tomorrow I'm going off early and hopefully I can get it going, drive the ball like I did today, hit my irons a little bit more crisp and be a little bit more aggressive on the putts.”
Not everyone played well enough make it to the weekend as TPC Harding Park sent a number of golf’s best home after two rounds, including Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Li will go to bed Friday night with a 36-hold lead at a major championship. Something he’s never experienced.
When the sun rises Saturday, there will be 43 players within seven shots of the him on a golf course that devastated some of golf’s best Friday.
Koepka enters the weekend with PGA Championship history in his sights. His iron play has been stellar over the first two rounds and it’s just a matter of time before the putts start dropping for the two-time defending champion.
“I'm pretty happy,” Koepka said after his second round. “I felt like I probably could be [10 under] right now. Hit a lot of good putts, just didn't go in. A couple of them, if I just hit them, they're in. But driving it pretty well. Iron play, I'm pretty pleased with. You know, I like where I'm at.”
Defeating Koepka will be no easy task, but several stars enter the weekend with a chance to knock him off.
Past major champions Day, Rose and Dustin Johnson (4-under) all are within four shots of the lead, while Fleetwood (6 under), Bryson DeChambeau (2-under) and Tony Finau (3-under) hope this is finally the weekend for their major coronation.
"Well, majors are the toughest tests in general, and when you're playing up against the best players in the world and on the hardest golf courses, hopefully, it's going to bring the best out of you," Fleetwood said. "But it tests every single aspect of your game mentally and physically, and I've always enjoyed that. I think going on majors in the past, I've been -- you can class it as lucky or unlucky, but I've played with quite a few of the winners of the last few majors and it's always good to see what they do.
"You learn things about yourself and how those events unfold. Like I say, experience, you can't buy it, and I've been lucky enough to have some of that, and hopefully it stands me in good stead moving forward."
Li holds the lead at the 2020 PGA Championship after two rounds, but it’s truly anyone’s tournament.
Woods, McIlroy and host of others will go out early Saturday looking to post a number and apply pressure to those at the top of the leaderboard.
TPC Harding Park will pull no punches over the weekend.
The Wanamaker Trophy will go to the golfer who can best survive the major test that lies ahead.