Rory McIlroy was correct when he predicted no one would approach his course-record 61 at the remodeled and brutally long Quail Hollow Club during the second round of the PGA Championship on Friday.
But Hideki Matsuyama’s 64 felt just as dominating as the world’s third-ranked player took advantage of softer conditions following a rain storm to birdie five of his final seven holes to post a 7-under round and tie Kevin Kisner at 8-under for the tournament lead heading into the weekend.
A 64 appeared unfathomable after Kisner shot a 67 earlier in the day – a full two shots better than any other player in the morning wave. Conditions were far more difficult in the afternoon on Thursday when the greens became harder and bumpier, but the rain storm that delayed play for nearly two hours on Friday took some of the teeth out of Quail Hollow for those teeing off later in the day.
Kisner had a five-shot lead when he finished his round, but could only watch as the second wave of players steadily ate into his margin.
Jason Day, the 2015 PGA champion who has struggled to find his form this season, shot a 5-under 66 and is two shots off the lead at 6-under entering the weekend. Francesco Molinari, Louis Oostheuizen and Chris Stroud are all at 5-under.
Stroud was one of 25 players still on the course when play was suspended. He still has five holes to play and the second round will conclude before the third-round pairings are finalized for Saturday.
Stroud was the only player among the top 10 still on the course and barring a hot finish it’s a safe bet that Kisner and Matsuyama will be paired together in the final group for the third round.
The 5-foot-10 Kisner began his round on the back nine and worked his way around the expansive course with solid driving and excellent putting. He opened with a birdie on the 10th hole and added one more on the 12th before dropping his lone shot of the day at the par-3 13th.
He regained the shot with a birdie on No. 15 and made his way through the infamous “Green Mile” – Nos. 16-18 – with three pars to make his turn in 2-under 24. The Charlotte-area native then recorded six consecutive pars before holing out from 50 feet from just short of the green for eagle on the par-5 7th hole.
“I’m hitting the ball really nice, and things are going my way, which obviously happens when you shoot 8-under around here for two days,” said Kisner. “I’m enjoying that.
“My bad shots are working out, my bad shots are working out, and I’m hitting a lot of putts. So it’s a lot of fun to play right now.”
Rickie Fowler shot a 1-under 70 and enters the weekend five shots behind Kisner at 3-under for the tournament – the closest competitor to Kisner from the morning wave. Fowler worked his way through a very steady round. Also starting on the back nine, he erased a bogey on No. 12 with a birdie on the 14th. He birdied the par-3 17th hole and then closed his round with 10 consecutive pars.
Playing partner McIlroy had a much more adventurous time in posting his second consecutive 1-over round of 70. He was 1-under for the round and even par for the tournament through 10 holes on Thursday, then bogeyed four of his next five holes to fall to 4-over and was teetering on the projected cut line.
McIlroy then reeled off consecutive birdies to get back to 2-over – and still felt good about his chances entering the weekend shortly after his round – but that was before the rains rolled in and the scores dropped. By the end of the day, he was in a tie for 31st nine shots off the lead.
“Kiz is on fire right now,” said McIlroy. “Hopefully he slows down a little bit and gives the rest of us a chance. But I still feel like I’m right there going into the weekend.”
McIlroy’s opinion of his chances might have dimmed several hours after his round complete. He was leap-frogged by numerous players, and the red-hot Matsuyama is the favorite among many after entering the week on the heels of a 61 last Sunday to pull away from the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Like Matsuyama, Kisner is also chasing his first major title, but the 33-year-old has shown plenty of poise through the first two rounds. And despite the course’s length he’s comfortable at the Quail Hollow Club, where his in-laws are members.
“Oh, I’ll be plenty loose,” Kisner said about his thoughts entering the weekend. “I have a 3-year-old running all over me all day, so we’ll have plenty of fun. Just keep the other baby in. Five weeks left on that one and looking forward to it.”
Among those who failed to take advantage of the softer conditions in the afternoon were top-ranked Dustin Johnson and second-ranked Jordan Spieth. Johnson shot a 74 that included only one birdie and is 10 shots off the pace.
“I kind of accept the fact that I’m essentially out of this tournament pending some form of crazy stuff the next couple of days,” said Spieth, who carded only one birdie en route to a 73 that left him 11 shots back.
NOTES: The cut line was at 5-over when play was halted. The top 72 and ties make the cut, and 77 players are currently at plus-5 or better. If the cut line remains where it is, Justin Rose will miss the weekend by a shot and Bubba Watson by two strokes. … Phil Mickelson shot a 3-over round of 74 on Friday to miss the cut at 11-over. … Jimmy Walker, the defending champion, also missed the cut at 8-over. … D.A. Points, 40, reached 4-under before carding consecutive double-bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17. He is at 1-under for the tournament.