CROMWELL, Conn. – All things relative, of course. We’re not talking Merion and the 2013 U.S. Open tough, nor suggesting that TPC River Highlands flashed vicious fangs Friday.
But, it wasn’t exactly the soft touch it was Thursday.
“It was totally different,” said Webb Simpson, who shot 65 Thursday morning and barely broke a sweat, but shot 69 Friday afternoon when he tried to keep it together coming in.
With winds picking up and greens firming up, “it was hard to know what shape you wanted to hit (your shot),” said Padraig Harrington.
Harrington (66-66) and Brendon de Jonge (67-67) are the only names among the top 11 on the leaderboard who at least matched their score from Thursday afternoon when they went out Friday afternoon. Hunter Mahan, for instance, backed up his opening-morning 62 with a 71 in the tricky Friday afternoon winds, and Simpson was four strokes higher.
No surprise, but of those who went out in gentle conditions Thursday afternoon and again Friday morning, Bubba Watson took the greatest advantage. With a 63-67 to get to 10-under 130, Watson – who won here in 2007 – leads Patrick Reed (66-66) and Harrington by two, while a four-way logjam at 7-under 133 features Mahan, Tommy Gainey, Nick O’Hern and Tag Ridings.
With a weekend of warm, pleasant weather on tap, here are 5 Things to Know from Friday’s second round:
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1. ROUGH NIGHT, GOOD MORNING: Reed made his way through his early 18 holes with a heavy heart of sorts. His beloved San Antonio Spurs lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals Thursday night, “and I stayed up all night watching that game.”
So the 4:15 a.m. wake-up call was quite a jolt, not that he didn’t recover nicely. Though he made his only bogey at the par-4 18th, Reed shot his second consecutive 4-under 66, pushed to 8 under, and is right in the thick of things.
When he was here a year ago, Reed was in the field as a Monday qualifier, so that part of his life is different. He’s fully exempt on Tour, thanks to finishing T-22 at Q-School in the fall.
What remains the same is his caddie – his wife, Justine – and the questions that naturally follow whenever his name pops onto the leaderboard. It remains a unique partnership on Tour.
“We respect each other to the max,” Reed said. “She’s a huge competitor and athlete, so I believe everything she says. She knows my golf swing better than I do.”
Reed insisted, however, that he’s able to maintain a clarity to their jobs, that he isn’t caught up in helping to lighten the load for Justine. “No, not really,” he said, when asked if he ever felt sorry for her. “The first time she carried it, it was 106 degrees, humid and sunny, and once the 18th was done, she was like, ‘I’m ready for more,’ and I was almost done. I could barely move.”
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2. BUBBA’S GOOD FIT: If you ignore the first year he saw TPC River Highlands, 2006 when he shot 73-72 and missed the cut, Watson has surely settled into a reliable scoring machine here.
In posting 3-under 67 to get halfway home at 10-under 130, Watson seized the lead by two. As well as he has played here, having shot 67 or better in 15 of his last 22 rounds, it marks the first time Watson has had the lead other than in 2007 when he rallied to win on the final day.
Now given that these 18 holes are shoe-horned into a tight piece of property and it’s only 6,854 yards, one might think it would make a bomber like Watson feel claustrophobic. On the contrary, he loves it.
“The tee shots and everything sets up well for me. I like the way they look,” said Watson, whose scoring average at TPC River Highlands is 66.73 in his last 22 rounds. “I love coming here.”
His performance shows, too, because in addition to this week’s lead and his 2007 win, Watson has a second and a T-6.
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3. THE BOTTOM WAS THE SHOW: Yeah, yeah, Watson is setting a bright red pace and Harrington and Reed are right there with him, but watching the cut move up and down into the dinner hour was great fun.
With 18 players still on the course there were 71 players at 1 under, so the even-par crowd figured to be out. It especially looked bleak when Kevin Sutherland, Greg Owen and David Branshaw all got into the house safely, and Brad Fritsch too. Even when Gary Christian missed the green at 18 and made bogey to fall to level par, there were 70 at 1 under, so there’s the cut, right?
It’s low 70 professionals and ties, and one of those inside the cut was Justin Thomas, a rising junior at national-champion Alabama. So with only 69 pros at 1 under or better, the cut dropped to level par and 13 more players got in.
Among those to sneak in at 140 were Lee Westwood, who backed up a 67 with a 73; Rickie Fowler, despite bogeys on three of his last four holes; and Tim Clark, who birdied his 35th and 36th holes, Nos. 8 and 9.
With plenty of daylight, we’ve got a full day of golf here at TPC River Highlands scheduled for Saturday’s third round, all 83 players going off the first tee starting at 7:36 a.m. And because his bogey ultimately paved the way for the level pars to get in, Christian wins the honor of first tee time, by his lonesome.
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4. IT’S NOT ABOUT STYLE POINTS: He figured he had a full 3-wood into the green from about 265 yards at the par-5 13th, and because he was 7 under for the tournament and playing well, Webb Simpson didn’t hesitate.
Now if you studied just the swing, you might have thought Simpson was in trouble. For on the followthrough, his left hand came off the club and for a split second he sweated out the line – a bit right-to-left, seemingly headed toward water.
But in the end, “I knew the line was good,” Simpson said, and he loved the results – his ball landed on the front part of the green and chased to about 35 feet. Two putts, easy birdie, no worries. But then Simpson smiled and conceded that the shot into 13 was perilously close to being bad.
“Part of my swing was poor; part of it was good.” But all in all, “I wouldn’t want to take it over,” Simpson said.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Frustrated Thursday when he had a double bogey and a bogey in a pedestrian round of 69, Keegan Bradley saw things turn around in his morning 65. After seven straight pars to start his round, Bradley birdied the 17th, 18th, second, third and fourth holes to match his best score at TPC River Highlands and leapfrog 40 players; at 6-under 134 he’s tied for eighth. . . . Mahan’s stretch of bogey-free holes at TPC River Highlands came to a halt at 48 when he drove it into the bunker at the par-4 ninth, then three-putted from about 50 feet. Hunter hadn’t made a bogey here since his 14th hole in last year’s third round, the par-4 fifth. . . . There were five more eagles at the short, par-4 15th – by Aaron Baddeley, Ryan Moore, Troy Matteson, Kevin Stadler and Nick O’Hern. . . . It might not have generated the buzz that amateur Patrick Cantlay’s 60 did in Round 2 two years ago here, but Justin Thomas shot 66 to assure himself a berth inside the cut. Thomas was T-98 after opening with a 72, but coming home in 31 he roared inside the cut. . . . Gary Woodland, who opened with 72, cited a sore back for his withdrawal. . . . Johnson Wagner made more doubles (four) than birdies (two) in shooting 75-79 to miss the cut. . . . The field average was 70.186 Thursday, 70.303 Friday.