Kang rolls into weekend with six-shot lead
in Shell Houston Open
By Cameron Morfit, US PGATOUR.COM
HUMBLE, Texas – Notes and observations from Friday’s second round of the Shell Houston Open, where Sung Kang ran away from the field with a second-round 63, getting him to 16 under halfway through the tournament.
Russell Henley and Hudson Swafford each shot 67 for the second straight day to get to 10 under and tied for second place. First-round leader Rickie Fowler went 2 under through nine holes in swirling winds, but fell back with a bogey and a double-bogey on the back and shot 71. Fowler will go into the weekend seven shots off the lead.
KANG: ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PUTTING’
Sung Kang is flirting with a new potential job hazard: What if his right arm gets tired from all those birdie waves?
After hitting 15 greens in regulation and putting well during his first-round 65 Thursday, Kang hit another 15 and putted even better while posting a course record-tying 63 Friday.
All together he has made 300 feet of putts in two days. “I putted pretty good yesterday, putted really good today,” said Kang, 29, who put a new TaylorMade Spider putter into play this week. “Plus I teed off the first off, and the greens are just pure, nobody really had [walked on] them.”
His 16-under total is a record here and had other players rubbing their eyes. Swafford’s caddie said, “16 is leading,” to which Swafford replied, “No way, that’s a 10, dude.”
“He said, ‘No, it’s 16,’” Swafford said. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t believe the score.
The South Korean-born Kang came to Houston having missed eight cuts in 14 starts this season, and 107th in the FedExCup standings. But insiders have always known he has game. Last year he shot a course-record 64 at Bethpage Black, and a course-record 60 in round two of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
“I was quite impressed with him in the events I worked for him,” said caddie Mike (Fluff) Cowan when reached by phone Friday. Cowan was on Kang’s bag for seven tournaments early last season, including the AT and T, while his regular boss Jim Furyk sat out with a wrist injury.
“He hits it plenty far, and he impressed me with his putter. I’d be really impressed to see 300 feet of putts go in. I’m not overly surprised to see him leading.”
Starting on the back nine Friday, Kang was enjoying a very good round when an eagle at the par-5 eighth hole, his second to last of the day, turned it into a great round.
“Anytime you see somebody making all those putts and hitting all those good shots, it’s fun to be part of it,” said playing partner Zac Blair, who shot 67 and is at 8 under, eight off the lead. “Hopefully we can both keep it up the next couple of days.”
Kang, who is looking like a potentially dangerous player for Captain Nick Price’s International Team at The Presidents Cup, has never finished better than third on the US PGA Tour (2011 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.) He has a lot to play for this weekend, given that his first TOUR win would come with a last-minute Masters berth.
“It’s not in my head,” he said.
HENLEY, SWAFFORD: IT’S NOT OVER
Kang has a big lead, but his fellow competitors weren’t about to throw in the towel. The leader has never won on Tour and has never been in this position through 36 holes. What’s more, there is nasty weather in the forecast for Sunday.
“I’m trying to just keep making birdies,” said Henley, a two-time Tour winner who has made 12 of them, along with two bogeys, over the first two rounds. “He’s at 16-under because he’s attacking the golf course. I’m just trying to keep hitting greens and keep giving myself chances at birdies and see what can happen.”
Swafford, whose first two rounds have looked identical to Henley’s, said he’ll draw from the positive feelings from his first TOUR win at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January.
“The guy continues to do that, hats off to him,” Swafford said of Kang’s spectacular play through the first half of the tournament. “But I think about continuing to play my own game, then just kind of pull back from what I did at CareerBuilder and go out and try to make a few birds and put a little pressure on him. I'll have as good a chance as he will.”
FOWLER FALTERS LATE
Rickie Fowler woke up Friday morning as the tournament leader, but was eight behind by the time he teed off for his second round.
“I'm not sure the conditions, what they were this morning,” Fowler said after making double-bogey 7 at the 15th hole and a bogey at the par-3 16th to go from 12 under to 9 under. “It may have been a little bit more down, the wind. Picked up in the afternoon.”
As for his frustrating finish, he said the double-bogey owed to “a wedge that kind of just took off high-left out of the first cut and rode the wind.” His tee shot at the par-3 16th found the bunker short of the green.
“Still not in a bad position,” he said. “It would have been nice to be a couple closer.”
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