PGA Championship 2017: It's Day, Fowler — not Spieth, McIlroy — in contention
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were the two betting favorites coming into this year’s PGA Championship. After shooting a combined 5 over in the first two rounds, both are out of the tournament — barring a miracle.
Spieth is 3 over and said after his round he knows it’s over for him. McIlroy is only one better at 2 over. He does hold the course record of 61, but he’d have to match that on Saturday to insert himself in the mix for Sunday.
Another betting favorite coming in is very much alive, though, as Jason Day shot a 5-under 66 on Friday to get to within two strokes of the leaders Kevin Kisner and Hideki Matsuyama. This is familiar territory for Day, who has been in the top 15 after each of the last 10 rounds of this tournament. It goes deeper than that, too.
“It’s going to be hard work over the next two days because of how Hideki and Kevin are playing,” said Day. “It was nice to be able to drive the way I did today and set myself up with the opportunities and being able to capitalize on those opportunities felt even better.
“They were the two things that were missing pretty much the whole year is my driving and my putting, and being able to combine that today, just felt like the old days, which is only last year. It just feels likes it’s been ten years ago because I have had a pretty poor year. Very pleased to be where I’m at.”
Day won his first major at Whistling Straits in 2015, and then he nearly dramatically won his second at Baltusrol last season when he came up just short of Jimmy Walker. He said on Friday he would draw on those experiences.
“Going back on the previous experiences that I’ve had in the PGA, obviously different venues,” said Day. “I know that I can do it. But I’ve just got to focus on just trying to control what I can do out there, which is obviously one shot at a time, which, very cliche.”
The other big favorite coming into this week who is near the lead is Rickie Fowler. More on him and the rest of a long day at Quail Hollow in my nine thoughts.
1. Rickie Fowler going conservative: Fowler is just five paces off the lead, and he talked about how having a more conservative approach than his playing partners McIlroy and Jon Rahm had over the first two days.
“I’m not as long as Jon or Rory,” said Fowler. “Go out and set your game plan in the practice rounds and figure out what you are going to do. The golf course has changed quite a bit since Monday Tuesday and even Wednesday with how dry it’s gotten and how much firmer the greens are, so just thinking how we want to play the golf course. And pars are good. There’s going to be a handful of opportunities where you can get aggressive and make some birdies.
“The biggest thing is not giving shots back. So there are probably a couple of holes where they can turn the ball right to left better than I can with driver. I play the shorter driver, which I predominantly hit a cut with. So with that there’s some holes that I may play back with 3-wood. The biggest thing for me, I’m trying to get the ball in the fairway and take kind of trouble out of play and minimize the mistakes. Like I said, you play aggressive when the time is right.”
Fowler did it differently than Day did, mostly because he played a tougher course. If it’s wet on Saturday and Sunday, it’s green light time for him. He has a real chance to get major win No. 1 at the place where he got PGA Tour win No. 1 back in 2012. He said after his round on Friday that he feels even more comfortable now in this position in major championships than he did when he finished in the top five in all of them in 2014.
2. Front nine was rough on Friday: The front played 1.8 strokes over par on Friday while the back played just 0.7 over. On Thursday, they were more equivalent with the front playing 1.9 and the back playing 1.8. The first hole usurped the Green Mile holes (Nos. 16-18) as the toughest on the course as it played to about a 4.5 average.
3. U.S. Open continues: It’s probably a little bit of a misnomer to call this a true U.S. Open considering the actual 2017 U.S. Open, which everyone thought played way too easy, saw 137 leading at the halfway point, while this tournament is led by 134. But this course has been transformed from its normal PGA Tour stop.
4. The rain helped: It was both statistically and visually evident that the rain delay halfway through the second wave in the afternoon helped players. The course played three-quarters of a stroke easier in the afternoon than the morning, which means the Thursday afternoon-Friday morning players played a course that was about a stroke tougher overall.
5. Louis Oosthuizen’s career wizardry: My favorite stat in golf is that Louis Oosthuizen is four strokes from four majors. It’s so, so easy to envision him winning Open after Open after Open after PGA Championship that another big-time title nearly seems inevitable. He was locked in on Friday to the tune of a 67 and shot up to T4 on the leaderboard. I’m here for his contention this weekend.
6. A stout leaderboard (finally): Speaking of contention, we went from typical PGA Championship leaderboard to world class major championship leaderboard in a hurry. From the time the first wave finished on Friday to the time of the rain delay about halfway through the second wave, Matsuyama, Day, Justin Thomas and Oosthuizen joined Fowler and Brooks Koepka on the front page of the board. Now we’re talking!
7. Course setup is tasty: I mentioned the difficult holes earlier, but one thing I love that the PGA of America is doing is tempting players with drivable par 4s. They made No. 14 play under 300 yards on Friday and even played No. 8 to just 346 yards (McIlroy nearly drove the green). It creates fascinating decisions for a multifaceted leaderboard like we have. Also, how great was the end of the day as players were trying to hurry up and finish so they wouldn’t have to come back super early on Saturday morning to tidy up Round 2. That led to Rod Pampling hitting the best drive of the tournament.
8. Brooks Koepka is just hanging: Maybe Koepka, who shot 73 on Friday, got his bad round out of the way for the week. He’s been unbelievable at majors in the past few years, and if somebody is going to make a charge from deep, I’m guessing it will be him.
9. Fowler will win: Yeah, I said it. I’m going to ignore the fact that I also said it after 36 holes at the U.S. Open and 54 holes at the Masters this year. It just has to happen at some point. You can’t keep finishing in the top five without accidentally getting it done. The symmetry of him completing the task at the same place where he got his first win is too much narrative for me to take.