Kang ties course record, builds big lead at SHO

By Will GrayMarch 31, 2017, 7:43 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – At this rate, Sung Kang’s new putter may soon end up in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Kang torched the Golf Club of Houston for the second straight day, tying the course record with a second-round 63 that broke the previous 36-hole scoring mark at the Shell Houston Open. At 16 under, Kang was six clear of his nearest competitor after the morning wave.

The 29-year-old was out early Friday, and playing on pristine greens he managed to roll in a whopping 196’8” worth of putts and has made exactly 300 feet of putts through 36 holes.

“I putted pretty good yesterday, putted really good today,” Kang said. “Plus I teed off the first off, and the greens are just pure, nobody really had them. The putter just kept making the putts.”

The only blip on Kang’s radar through two rounds came on No. 18 yesterday, when his 4-foot par putt caught a spike mark. He tapped in for an opening 65, then came back out a few hours later and carded seven birdies to go along with a 30-foot eagle on No. 8 that ballooned his advantage at the time to eight shots.

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Low scores have become a bit of a theme with Kang, who is in his third straight season on the PGA Tour after a brief stint on the Web.com circuit. He shot a 60 at Monterey Peninsula during last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, then tied a course record with a 64 at Bethpage Black during The Barclays in August.

But this particular performance comes as a bit of a surprise, considering Kang entered the week ranked No. 158 on Tour in strokes gained putting and hasn’t cracked the top 10 since the 2016 Honda Classic.

This week’s turnaround has roots in an equipment switch, as Kang ditched his longtime Scotty Cameron for a new TaylorMade Spider model that one of his friends in the equipment truck suggested he tinker with. Thus far, the swap has paid off in a big way.

“I always hit it long and straight enough, but I always have trouble with iron play and also putting,” Kang said. “My putting was not bad last year. We’ve been working so hard on my iron play. It keeps getting better. I still was hitting irons so much better, but I didn’t putt well through last week.”

Kang remains in search of his first Tour win, and now is in position for what might be a life-changing collection of prizes: seven-figure check, two-year exemption and of course the final spot in the Masters next week.

“It’s not in my head. I’ll go play,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.