ST. LOUIS – Gary Woodland followed up a great start with a round good enough to get him in the record book Friday at the PGA Championship.
On a record day of scoring, it only gave him a one-shot lead.
And with more rain that pounded Bellerive and wiped out golf for the rest of the afternoon, Woodland wasn’t even sure he would be leading.
Woodland had a 4-under 66 and set the PGA Championship record with a 36-hole score of 130. That was barely enough for a one-shot lead over Kevin Kisner, one of three players who came to the final hole with a shot at becoming the first to post a 62 in the PGA.
Kisner, playing in the same group as Woodland, came up short of the green at No. 9 and made bogey for a 64.
Just ahead of them, two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka narrowly missed a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 9. He had to settle for being the 15th player in PGA Championship history to shoot a 63.
And then Charl Schwartzel made it 16 players with his eight-birdie round of 63.
“They key is to get the ball in the fairway and attack from there,” Woodland said.
Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and the late starters Friday had the same idea and were on the same track until the sky darkened, thunder rumbled and storms arrived to stop play for two hours, until it rained so much the PGA called it a day.
The second round was to resume at 7 a.m. local time Saturday, and the third round – weather permitting – was to start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the second round, with threesomes starting on both sides.
No one from the afternoon side of the draw finished more than 12 holes. Woods made three birdies in five holes and was seven shots behind. Fowler overcame an early bogey with three birdies through 10 holes. He was at 7 under, three shots behind Woodland with eight holes to play.
“Guys definitely took advantage of that this morning,” Fowler said during the rain delay. “A few of us are trying to jump on that train and take advantage of it this afternoon.”
Bellerive really had no defense.
Two rounds of 63s. Another at 64. Six rounds of 65. And that was only half of the 156-man field.
“The golf course is gettable,” Woodland said. “If you drive the golf ball in play, the greens were rolling a little bit better today. I think we’ll see some putts go in.”
They were going in for just about everybody.
Woodland’s 36-hole score broke the PGA record by one shot, most recently set by Jimmy Walker and Robert Streb at Baltusrol. It also tied the 36-hole record for all majors, matching Jordan Spieth at the 2015 Masters, Martin Kaymer at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and Brandt Snedeker (Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2012) and Nick Faldo (Muirfield in 1992) at the British Open.
Koepka ran off three straight birdies after he made the turn and came to the par-5 ninth at 7 under for the round. He hit his approach 20 feet above the hole and didn’t know a record was at stake – until after he missed.
“I was just trying to make the thing, and I really thought I made it,” Koepka said. “My caddie said something walking off. I didn’t even think of it. I’ve been so in the zone, you don’t know where you are.”
Koepka was at 8-under 132, two shots behind.
Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, had a 66 and joined Schwartzel and Thomas Pieters (66) at 133.
Woodland and Kisner played in the same group, and they offered a great example that Bellerive is accommodating to just about any game. Woodland is among the most powerful players in golf. Kisner is not. He relies more on a clean hit with his irons and a great short game.
The course is so soft – not so much from Tuesday’s rain, but the extreme heat that requires more water on the turf – that every flag is accessible provided players find the ample fairways.
“Greens are receptive, so my 4-iron stops as quick as his 7-iron,” Kisner said. “If they were firm, I don’t think I would have a chance with the way the greens are situated and the places they’re putting the flags. But being receptive, that’s my only hope.”
Spieth still has hope in his second try at a career Grand Slam. Spieth didn’t get under par for the tournament until his seventh hole Friday – the par-3 16th hole – and he managed to do enough right for a 66 to get within seven shots of the lead.
Spieth has battled with his game all year, and his confidence isn’t at its peak. It’s the nature of the course that makes him feel he has a farther climb than the seven shots that separate him from Woodland.
“A little frustrated at this place in general,” Spieth said. “This course would be phenomenal – and probably is phenomenal – if it’s not playing soft. You get away with more. You don’t have to be as precise. … Personally, I would prefer more difficult and firmer, faster conditions on the greens. Having said that, I would have shot a much higher score yesterday.”
Woods was 3 over through seven holes of this championship, and he is 6 under over his next 18 holes and appeared to be gaining momentum. Along with his three birdies, he saved par from a bunker on the par-3 sixth hole from about 18 feet.
Defending champion Justin Thomas made one birdie and no doubt felt like he was losing ground. He was only 2 under. Rory McIlroy opened with seven straight pars, and then he belted a drive 359 yards on the par-5 eighth hole when the rain arrived.
Midway through the afternoon round, the cut was projected to be even par. Woodland, even with the lowest 36-hole score in 60 years of stroke play at the PGA Championship, still had a long way to go. In conditions like Bellerive, no lead was safe.
“I feel safe because I feel safe where my game is,” Woodland said. “I’m not too worried with what anyone else is doing out there.”
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