LEMONT, Ill. – Matt Kuchar has rarely been so proud of a round in which he didn’t even break par.
He wasn’t even sure how he finished.
The face of this FedEx Cup so far, Kuchar became ill before the start of the BMW Championship. He opened with a 7-under 64 and politely declined interviews because he thought he had laryngitis. Turns out he has an infection, although Kuchar isn’t sure if it’s viral or bacterial. All he knows is that he would have rather been just about anywhere than at Cog Hill on Friday.
“It’s probably the worst feeling I’ve had out here,” he said.
It sure looked that way.
He bogeyed three straight holes and was tumbling down the leaderboard, and still was 4 over for his round through eight holes when he somehow turned it around. Kuchar birdied five of his last 10 holes for a 1-over 72, just enough to take a share of the lead with Charlie Wi going into the weekend.
Wi shot a 69, his only big blunder coming on the 16th hole when he hooked his 3-wood into a hazard and made triple bogey.
They were at 6-under 136, one shot ahead of Marc Leishman, whose 65 was the best score of the second round. A trio of Englishmen – Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald – were in the group at 4-under 138, along with Dustin Johnson.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, couldn’t make a putt and shot a 72. It was the first time at Cog Hill that he opened with consecutive rounds over par since the 1994 Western Open, where Woods missed the cut for the seventh consecutive time on the PGA Tour. It should be noted, of course, that he was only 18 that year.
Woods was nine shots out of the lead, and even finishing around fifth to qualify for the Tour Championship looked improbable. He still had seven shots and 32 players ahead of him to get in range of finishing in the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings.
“I did it last year on the weekend,” Woods said, referring to a 62-68 finish to win by eight shots.
Last year looks nothing like this one in so many ways.
Phil Mickelson, whose most enjoyable round of the week was Wednesday at Butler National, shot a 71 and was at 1-over 143.
Kuchar ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine, and the one par was a dandy. His ball stopped against a rake outside the bunker on the side of the hill, and he managed to chip up to about 3 feet.
He finished with a long two-putt for par and was thrilled to still be standing.
“It was a good feeling out there, as bad as I felt,” Kuchar said. “To post 1-over par, I was real happy. And I’m really excited about getting home and into bed.”
Just his luck, there is no chance of sleeping in.
The tournament is being broadcast by NBC Sports, which has an obligation to cover Notre Dame football, and the Irish are playing Michigan on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CDT. That means Kuchar will have to be back at Cog Hill around 8 a.m. for his 9:15 a.m. tee time.
How well he can hold up on the weekend is the question, for Friday required supreme concentration.
“I tried to give as much self-talk as I could give out there to myself, hang in there, grind it out, kind of meander up to the ball and see if I could flip a switch for about four seconds, and go back to being a zombie,” he said.
It seemed to work, especially during his stretch of birdies on the back nine.
“Pretty impressive,” said his caddie, Lance Bennett, who has a raspy voice and sounds very much like the boss these days.
Wi is No. 37 in the standings and is closer than ever to his first Tour Championship, which comes with a spot in three of the majors.
“For me to play well, I knew that I had to stay in the present and just play one hole at a time,” he said. “Actually, I wrote that down on my pin sheet every day so I look at it if I were to get ahead of myself.”
A year ago, the 36-hole leaders were at 7-under 135, and Woods went on to win by eight shots at 19 under. A score like that seems unlikely on greens that are inconsistent because of summer heat and recent rain.
Cog Hill is getting a steady stream of criticism, from the rough shape of the greens to the makeover by Rees Jones. Geoff Ogilvy was in a decent mood when he walked off the 18th green with a 72, putting him at 3-over 145.
He was asked why so many players don’t seem to like Cog Hill, and the Australian was as insightful as ever.
“The short answer is it’s just not enjoyable to play,” he said. “Look, if your mission is to really punish a slightly bad shot and make it really hard all day, then it’s a success. If your mission is to create a place people enjoy playing, then it’s a failure.”
He was asked if he was enjoying himself, and Ogilvy laughed.
“Are you mad?” he said.
Kuchar isn’t enjoying himself at all, yet he couldn’t be more happy. He was atop the leaderboard, and going to bed.