Writing from Carmel, Indiana
Friday, September 9, 2016
Tell a professional golfer he can put the ball in his hand, and his eyes light up.
So does the leader board, going tilt.
That was the case Friday at Crooked Stick Golf Club, where the second round of the BMW Championship was played in that fashion after nine-tenths of an inch of rain in Thursday’s twin downpours. The first round, completed in the morning, was hands off, strictly according to Hoyle, the Marquis of Queensberry and the Rules of Golf. The second round?
It was hands on. Lift, clean and place – or cheat, as many a golf wag has chirped over the decades – was in effect in fairways and closely-mown areas.
The result, this string of numbers: 63, 64, 65, 65, 66, 66, 67, 68, 68 and 68.
Those were the highlight rounds of the afternoon, during which the wind barely blew and the players took full advantage of both the conditions and the conditions of play.
The 63, which equates to 9 under the Stick’s par of 72, was authored by Dustin Johnson, who noted after the round that he scored an A in physics in high school.
That signal achievement was proffered by the United States Open champion after he was asked if the physics of his new putter, with weight centered behind the striking area, had to do with his success on the day. It’s likely the questioner meant the geometry of the putter, given that’s how engineers and designers talk, but we digress, as Johnson offered no other inside into his academic CV.
Regardless, he killed Crooked Stick and moved into a tie with Roberto Castro, the first round leader, who matched his opening 65 and thus is knotted with Johnson at 14-under 130 at the halfway point of this fandango, which a certain portion of golf scribes number as the 113th Western Open.
Castro and Johnson are three strokes ahead of Paul Casey, who sits at 11-under 133 after a 6-under 66. Neither he nor Castro or Johnson tallied an over-par hole on the day. It was birdies and pars for all three, with Johnson pouring in a pair of eagles on the par-5 ninth – where he holed out from a greenside bunker 45 feet from the cup – and 15th holes.
Johnson was seven strokes better than the field, and his 32-31 concoction probably could not have been better. Aside from three par saves, he ran a half-dozen long putts within tap-in distance for pars. Which brings us back to the new magic wand, the “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” like the one Jason Day uses.
“I played with him the last two weeks and saw him make enough putts I was like, I’ve got to try one at least,” Johnson said. “The ball’s coming out where I’m looking. That’s the only difference. I feel like I always read the greens very well. I’m just hitting a lot more putts on my line and they’re going in.”
For as long a hitter as he is, the old “drive for show, putt for dough” line fit on Friday. He was only 23rd in the 69-man field in driving, but needed only 25 putts, and his 22 on his 15 greens reached in regulation tied for third in the field. The 48 putts he’s taken this week is best in show.
In comparison, Castro’s 65 seemed ho-hum, never mind that he also took only 25 putts and was 4-of-4 in par saves. He actually made more putts from longer distances than Johnson, but didn’t have an eagle in his bag. He hopes to have a victory in it, as it’s his path to East Lake and the Tour Championship.
“There’s not a while lot of shuffling or points thoughts for me,” Castro said.
Neither did Ryan Palmer, who is tied for sixth at 7-under 137 after an 8-under 64 that at the time tied the existing course record, set by Rory McIlroy in the 2012 BMW. But his inward 30, with birdies on three of the last four holes, moved him up the leader board. He had opened with a 1-over 73 and was mired in 47th place. Now, he’s in the hunt, if seven strokes behind a pair of streaky players with 36 holes to go can be considered in.
Castro’s overnight lead held up
Castro did all the work in his 7-under-par 65 on Thursday, and remained the leader after the storm-delayed first round was completed on Friday morning. The big mover when play resumed was William McGirt, who played the last four holes in 4-under, including an eagle on the par-5 15th. He’d been 2-under at dusk Thursday.
Around Crooked Stick
There hasn’t been a Pete Dye sighting yet, and there may not be. The architect of the course who lives three doors down from the clubhouse along the 18th fairway is 90 and sadly, not getting around as well as he did even a year ago. More than a half-century ago, Dye was not only a WGA director, he had enough game to make match play in the Western Amateur, advancing to the semifinals in 1958 and 1959. ... The first round scoring average was 70.797. The par-5 15th was the easiest on the course, at 4.377 strokes, yielding four eagles, though the par-5 ninth (4.406) gave up five. With lift, clean and place in effect in the second round, the round’s average dipped to 70.029. The low four years ago, when all four rounds were played with what is sometimes discreetly called “preferred lies,” was 69.471 in the first round. The other three rounds averaged over 70, with the final round over 72.
– Tim Cronin