Henrik Stenson registered a sixth successive round in the 60s at a major to move him in sight of back-to-back major victories at Baltusrol last night.
If the Open champion from Sweden was successful and became PGA Championship winner tomorrow, he would emulate Rory McIlroy, who completed the feat in 2014 and was last night edging himself closer to making the halfway cut as the rain-delayed second round continued in New Jersey.
Stenson’s work was done early, however, the 40-year-old carding a second consecutive 67 to move to six under par and claim the clubhouse lead over his fellow morning-wave starters.
He was 36-hole leader at Royal Troon a fortnight ago after rounds of 68 and 65, but a 68 on the Saturday at the Scottish links meant he needed to produce some spectacular golf on the Sunday and Stenson did just that, overcoming 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson with a final-round 63 to win an epic duel and lift the Claret Jug.
Stenson made it clear he now covets the Wanamaker Trophy and halfway through the PGA Championship, he said: “I’m very happy to be able to follow up the success at Troon with a couple of strong rounds here and be in good position.
"We know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s all about being there for Sunday afternoon, and so far, so good. You’re not winning anything on a Thursday and a Friday, but you can put yourself in the wrong direction early days.
“So happy with that, and yeah, I think I played some great shots out there, and maybe a few that wasn’t so great. But all in all, I’m very pleased with that round today.
"Probably even more so than yesterday, I would say, because the start wasn’t great, and yeah, things weren’t looking great after four or five holes. So I could have easily gone the other way, but I managed to turn things around.”
Stenson had started from the 10th tee with fellow 2016 major winners Danny Willett and Dustin Johnson, beginning his round two shots behind overnight leader Jimmy Walker.
US Open champion Johnson was already out of the running having shot an opening 77. He would finish 36 holes at nine over par.
Stenson bogeyed the par-three 12th and par-four 13th to fall further behind but his second round came alive at the turn as he eagled the par-five 18th, sending a magnificent three-wood second shot to within three feet of the hole. That was followed by three birdies on the front nine and plenty of smiles from the Swede.
Asked if he would approach the third and fourth rounds any differently than he did at Troon, the deadpan Stenson replied: “No, I think a 63 on Sunday would work pretty well here, too.”
Emiliano Grillo and Walker were last night striving to put some distance between themselves and the field. Argentina’s Grillo was four under for his second round, eight under for the tournament after 11 holes, with Walker a shot behind and a hole behind, two under for the day.
Stenson, in the clubhouse lead, was a shot ahead of Martin Kaymer and American Patrick Reed, who both reached five under with rounds of 69 and 65 respectively.
Not far behind them at three under lies Jordan Spieth, the world number three looking for the third major of his career having failed to rekindle the magic that delivered his first two at the start of 2015 when he won the Masters and US Open back to back.
After a disappointing Open at Troon a fortnight ago, when his normally immaculate putting deserted him, Spieth improved on an opening level-par 70 at Baltusrol with a second-round 67.
It was not without incident, the Texan 23-year-old overcoming a lengthy and complicated ruling on the seventh when his tee shot found a puddle on a cart path, giving him relief from both the path and casual water.
Ultimately he bogeyed the hole for the second day in succession, the seventh proving as problematic as his putting right now.
The issues from Troon are still with Spieth as he goes into the weekend.
“I’m hitting the ball fantastic. I just can’t get a putt to go in outside 10 feet. It feels like it’s a bit of a struggle adapting line and speed control on the greens. Inside of 10, I made quite a few good birdie putts today to get me in contention.
“I’m striking the ball beautifully. Driver went a little astray, but overall I feel like I’m in a good position to make a run, I just need a couple good rounds.”
So too will McIlroy, should he find a way to squeeze into the weekend.
He had started the day at four over, his opening 74 sending him back to the Baltusrol putting green on Thursday evening to try and gauge on the speed of the greens.
He had missed five putts inside 10 feet in the first round but birdies at the par-three fourth and par-four sixth had eased the pressure, only for a bogey at the ninth to return him to dangerous territory.
Were McIlroy to make it to the third round today he would still have the odds stacked against a third PGA Championship victory, having ceded nine shots to the first-round leader Walker. The best comeback by a PGA Championship winner after 18 holes is eight shots.
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