During various moments of this US PGA Championship’s second round, injury appeared the greatest danger to Brooks Koepka’s bid to make history. Koepka was seen flat on his back, undergoing physiotherapy treatment in scenes that raised fears over his very ability to complete this event.
Beware the injured golfer, they say. By the time Koepka walked from Harding Park’s 18th green, he had just converted a birdie putt from 10ft after playing the shot of the day from a fairway bunker. A 68 moved Koepka to six under and within just two of the lead as held by Haotong Li. Should he win – again – Koepka would become the first golfer since 1956 to win the same major three times in succession.
“It was my hip,” Koepka explained of necessary medical attention. “It’s fine, I woke up this morning, it was tight, and worked out and it got even tighter and then we loosened it up. It was a little tight when I was hitting balls on the range but it’s nothing to be worried about. We’ll loosen it up again and it will be a lot better.
“I’m pretty happy. I felt like I probably could be 10 under right now. I hit a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. A couple of them, if I just hit them, they’re in. I’m driving it pretty well. Iron play, I’m pretty pleased with. You know, I like where I’m at.”
On a bunched leaderboard, 44 players are separated by seven shots. The difficulties associated with the first major of an unorthodox 2020 were illustrated by Shane Lowry. The Open champion snapped an iron over his knee in frustration at a bad break. Tiger Woods flirted with the cut line but ultimately survived; the 15-times major champion is eight from the lead after a 72 during which round one’s putting touch completely deserted him.
Rory McIlroy was three under and on the charge before a ghastly triple bogey seven at the 12th. At one under, McIlroy is far from out of this but, like Woods, has cause to worry about the depth of field in front of him. McIlroy’s Friday 69 included six birdies. “Once Tiger and I got our tee shots off 18, I just gave him a look like, phew, glad that’s almost done,” McIlroy said. “It was tough out there.”
Tommy Fleetwood signed for a closing round of 63 at the 2018 US Open, thereby coming within a whisker of stealing Koepka’s thunder at Shinnecock Hills. At that juncture, a major win appeared so closely within Fleetwood’s grasp. He was second, again, as Lowry triumphed at the Open. It has been understandably lost in the melee of Covid-19 but in specific context of golf, Fleetwood has cause to rue a disruption to the major scene of 2020. “Experience? You can’t buy it,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have some of that and hopefully it stands me in good stead moving forward.”
His second round of 64 catapulted him through the field, thereby restoring a narrative as attached to the finest players in the modern game as yet to win a major. Fleetwood played the back nine, his front, in just 31 shots. The sole aberration on the 2nd, his 11th, paled into insignificance against a six under par round. Fleetwood improved by six from day one. Likewise, from two PGA Tour starts following his return to the US; Fleetwood missed the cut at the 3M Open and tied 35th at last weekend’s World Golf Championship.
“I’m the same person,” said Fleetwood with a smile when asked to assess Shinnecock versus Harding Park. “I’ve got a little bit more experience. If you look at it, was I playing better at Shinnecock? Maybe. But that might only be because I’ve only played two weeks since coming back.”
The 29-year-old from Southport is candid about the issues as raised by travel barriers between the UK and US. He didn’t take the option of appearing at the PGA Tour’s restart in mid-June on personal, and perfectly understandable, grounds.
“I think you assess the situation week in, week out at the moment and see how everybody feels,” Fleetwood added. “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to what anybody does. What I did was I knew whenever I did come over to the States there was a two-week quarantine and I knew I was going to spend a long stretch.
“I was leaving it as late as possible to start playing just because then it would be a straight stretch in America.”
Jason Day has joined Fleetwood at six under. So, too, did Justin Rose after holing a terrific putt on the 18th for a 68. Paul Casey’s 67 moved him to minus five. Bryson DeChambeau is two under after a 70.
Li added a 65 to his first round 67 before Koepka, McIlroy and Woods had even taken to the course. “I’ve got no expectation actually, because you know for the last few months, I’ve stayed at home doing nothing,” said Li. Time will tell if this carefree approach can carry the 25-year-old from Hunan successfully through the closing 36 holes.
Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Graeme McDowell were among those to exit San Francisco at the halfway point. Martin Kaymer, having opened so promisingly with a 66, shot 82 for his own, wounding early departure.