RIDGELAND, SC — Chesson Hadley made his best start on the PGA Tour since 2016, shooting 5-under 66 for a two-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson at the Palmetto Championships in Congaree on Friday.
Hadley was at 11-under 131 at Kangri Golf Club, his lowest score through 36 holes since the RSM Classic in 2016.
Top-ranked Johnson, who opened five shots in his afternoon round behind opening starter Hadley, was tied for the lead through 17 holes.
But Johnson threw the ball at number 18 into a thick, deep-rooted patch of tall grass. He took an unstoppable lie, hit his third shot on the green and made a double-bogie 6 for 68. Still, at 9-under 133, he had his best 36-hole start since winning the Travelers nearly a year earlier.
“I think I’m playing really well,” said the South Carolina native. “So I’m very confident in what I’m doing.”
American Tan Lee, in his third career PGA Tour event, was third at 7-under after 68. A group of six that included Harris English and South Africa’s Eric van Rooyen were five shots behind at 6-under.
Hadley continued his stellar run at Kangri, a fill-in host after the RBC Canadian Open was called off due to COVID-19 for the second year in a row.
Headley topped the leaderboard after opening 65 with seven birdies and two bogeys. Coming in, he had missed out on making the cut in 10 of his last 12 events.
“I certainly didn’t see it coming,” he said.
Why would he put up with his bad game?
After losing to Byron Nelson last month for the fifth straight cut, the 33-year-old from North Carolina took things off for a while to clear his head. “Thank God I had three weeks off after that, just to completely put it behind me and think about the future,” he said.
These two tours marked the beginning of Hadley’s dwindling confidence. “Obviously, we are a long way off as a winner’s circle,” Hadley said. “I’m so grateful to feel like I’m outta here again.”
And he will play in the third round with someone who is definitely related to Johnson, although the world No. 1 ranked player has been surprisingly poor over the past few months.
He has gone without a Top 10 in his last seven starts, a grueling run that included a missed cut at the Masters, where he was the defending champion, and the PGA Championship in his home state.
Johnson said that even his recent performance has shocked him. “For me, it’s all about omissions,” he explained. “If you can keep your misses in play or on the right side of the hole, it makes the game a lot easier.”
He did it near perfection, except for that last hole.
Johnson had four birdies on the six-hole section of the last nine to catch Headley. Then the bad drive at last, which Johnson said, when the club slipped in the hand of his glove.
“It’s a first for me. I clearly wasn’t expecting it,” he said.
Hadley, at 9-under, advanced with a 36-foot birdie put on the 11th hole. He extended his lead to 15th, landing his approach within 2 feet of the cup for another birdie. Headley closed with a flourish after sticking his second shot within 8 feet of the cup for another birdie with the lowest round of the day.
Brooks Koepka, who had not played since finishing runner-up in the PGA, struggled for a second straight round and missed the cut after scoring 73 in 3 overs.
Wondering if Koepka will be ready for next week’s US Open? It is: He missed the cut at Byron Nelson, then a week later finished second at the PGA Championship.
Koepka was happy to rep this week and wanted to continue playing. “I don’t know, I have a harder time focusing on regular PGA Tour events than I do,” he said. “Majors, I know it was off from the moment I hit the first tee shot.”
Lee was supposed to qualify for all three of his PGA Tour appearances on Monday. Now, he is four shots off the lead. “Yeah, it’s so crazy. It’s wild,” he said.
First-round leader Wes Roach chased down his opening 64 with 77 runs to go 10 shots behind Hadley.
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