Levi Breaks Through Leads Senior PGA
Levi's two-day total of 3-under-par 137 marks the highest score to hold the lead through the midway point of the championship since 1990 when Harold Henning and Gary Player shared the top spot.
The four players at the top are the only golfers under par at Firestone Country Club as high rough and slick greens have made play difficult.
One of the best golfers on the over-50 circuit struggled Friday as Tom Kite, one of the three co-leaders after the first round, shot a 3-over 73. He is tied for 10th at 1-over-par and is joined by a large group headlined by former champions Hale Irwin and Ray Floyd.
Jack Nicklaus, who has battled back injuries, opened with a 1-over 71 Thursday but did not play as well in round two. He shot an 8-over-par 78 and made the cut on the number at 9-over-par 149.
Had Nicklaus not carded an even-par 35 on his second nine Friday he could have missed the cut and in the process snapped one of the most impressive streaks in his storied career. Nicklaus has made every cut in a major tournament since joining the elder circuit in 1990, a streak that has now reached 46 consecutive championships.
'I don't worry about cuts - I'm more interested in hitting good shots,' said Nicklaus, who has been forced to withdraw from two majors on the Senior Tour. 'I was pretty pleased with the back nine. You know, I don't really worry about my injuries, it's just years of playing golf taking its toll. All I can do is take one shot at a time. Some days you are good and some days you aren't, and today I wasn't very good.'
Jim Thorpe, the first major champion of the year at The Tradition, is tied for fifth place with Jay Overton, Bobby Wadkins, Bob Gilder and Fuzzy Zoeller. The group stands at even-par 140.
Levi has only one top-five finish this season in 10 starts, a tie for fourth at the Farmer's Charity Classic two weeks ago. Levi won 12 times on the PGA Tour, including four wins in 1990 en route to being named PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Levi's brief career on the Senior Tour has been filled with ups and downs with the short stick. He took 32 putts in Thursday's round of 69 but only needed 24 to get around Firestone in the second round.
'The putting has been fairly poor, so that's what probably has kept me from doing better than I have,' said Levi, who ranks 62nd in putts per round on tour with an average of almost 30 putts a round. 'This poor putting has killed me, but I'm out here to win tournaments.'
Friday's second round was highlighted with more ups and downs for Levi. Levi shot an 1-under-par 34 on the front side with three birdies and a pair of bogeys.
At the turn, Levi was tied for the lead at 2-under-par but he broke out of the pack and drained the birdie putt to go to 3-under. Levi extended his lead two holes later when he played a 5-iron to 20 feet, where he cashed in on another birdie putt.
Levi did not take long to squander his edge. At the 15th, Levi blocked his tee ball into a right greenside bunker where he left his bunker shot on the fringe. He chipped to four feet and rolled home the bogey putt but still maintained a one-stroke lead.
Levi, who turned 50 in February, looked in great shape at the par-5 16th when he ripped one down the center of the fairway before he pushed his second shot in the right rough under a tree. Levi's third bounded off the green and his chip on to the green left him six feet from the hole, where he missed to fall back into a tie for first at minus 2.
He rebounded at 17 when once again he striped his drive down the fairway and played a 6-iron five feet behind the hole. Levi holed the birdie putt to take the 36-hole lead at 3-under-par.
'Early on I played a couple of bad shots but after that I started to settle down a little bit more and started hitting the ball quite well,' said Levi. 'There's a lot of tough holes out there. You have to keep at it.'
Nelson, Ziegler and Hall each posted rounds of 2-under-par 70 Friday and each player loved the level of difficulty that Firestone offers.
'(Firestone) feels more like the U.S. Senior Open than our Opens have been,' said Nelson, considered the best Senior player never to win a major on this tour. 'We haven't played a U.S. Senior Open course that's been as difficult. I think it's great. There's no reason to make our majors a pitch-and-putt.'
'I think this is the hardest, fairest course I've ever played. No gimmicks,' Ziegler said. 'Guys love coming here to play golf. We play so many courses where you feel like you're playing Mickey Mouse. They've got big, old rolly greens. It's not fun to play what they're building today.'
'Today is a great example of a perfect weather day to play, yet the scores are not low,' said Hall, a former salesmen. 'The course will not allow it.'
Tom Watson, the 2001 champion, struggled to a 6-over 76 Friday and shares 36th place at 5-over-par.
The 36-hole cut fell at 9-over-par 149 and 80 players advanced to the weekend.
Full-field scores from the Senior PGA Championship
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.