HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – A grueling Masters finally caught up to K.J. Choi on Friday at the Verizon Heritage, and Jim Furyk, Charles Howell III and Greg Owen took advantage to top the second-round leaderboard.
Furyk (68), Howell (67) and Owen (69) were tied at 7-under 135, a stroke ahead of a group that included two-time Verizon champ Boo Weekley and Stuart Appleby.
Choi, who played alongside Tiger Woods all four rounds at Augusta National, opened with a 64 on Thursday. However, he couldn’t maintain that pace and fell three shots off the lead after a 74 at Harbour Town Golf Links.
“Yeah, the fatigue is setting in right now,” said Choi, who tied for fourth with Woods last week. “But no excuses today, I had a tough time reading the greens.”
Furyk didn’t have Choi’s problem entering Harbour Town. “I didn’t play enough to get tired,” he said about Augusta.
The world’s sixth-ranked player missed the Masters’ cut for just the second time in 14 appearances. Furyk wasn’t happy with the early exit. But instead of dwelling on it, he enjoyed what was left of Masters week.
He stayed late at a Friday night party with friends and sponsors. He drove to Myrtle Beach with wife Tabitha for a “Monday After the Masters” outing put on each year by Hootie and the Blowfish, including a concert by the group.
“Had a great time and met a bunch of great people,” he said. “I got my practice in but also blew off some steam and when I got here I was in a great frame of mind and ready to go to work.”
That showed in the second round. Furyk stuck approach shots within 10 feet on the 13th and 15th holes for birdies. He caught Choi for the lead when he chipped in from just off the green on No. 16.
Furyk, whose round ended just as Choi teed off, expected the South Korean to continue the strong play from last week when he tied for fourth at 11 under – same as Woods – amid the large galleries that followed the group on Augusta’s grounds.
Choi, though, quickly fell back when he drove out of bounds on No. 11, then put a tee shot in the water on No. 14, both for bogeys.
After a double-bogey 6 when he failed to get out of a bunker on No. 18, Choi trailed by three. He held things together with an even-par final nine to remain in contention.
“I’m not that far behind,” said Choi, seeking his first PGA Tour win since 2008.
Howell tied Furyk with a birdie on No. 18 where the late afternoon roared through the course’s signature lighthouse hole. He rolled in a 22-footer from off the green. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” he said.
Owen moved to 7 under after putting his approach on the par-5 fifth hole within 2 feet for birdie, then parred out the rest of the way.
The most intriguing surges may have come from Weekley, Appleby and 18-year-old U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun An.
Weekley turned into a golf folk hero with wins here in 2007 and 2008, fans drawn to his folksy demeanor as much as his game. A torn labrum last year at The Players Championship led to a month off and problems once he returned.
Weekley hoped his favorite tour venue might provide the missing spark to his game. It looked it had so far.
He posted his second 68, the first time all year he opened with two sub-70 rounds.
This is An’s third PGA Tour event after missing cuts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Masters. He used an eagle on the par-5 15th and birdies on the fifth and sixth holes to move within a stroke of the lead. However, he went 3-over par his final three holes to fall back.
Appleby hasn’t played Harbour Town since 1998 when he felt it wise to break after typically stressful Masters. Appleby didn’t qualify for Augusta National this time, opening a week on his schedule.
Still, Harbour Town’s never really suited Appleby – until now.
The 67 was his lowest round of the year. It’s also the first time in 11 events this season he’s had two rounds in the 60s.
“Maybe the claustrophobic feel of the course makes it a bit sharper with your targets,” he said.
Furyk knows Harbour Town’s Jekyll-and-Hyde nature too well.
He was second at the Verizon Heritage in 2005 and 2006, and fourth two years ago. Then again, he also missed cuts here in 2007 and 2009. “It seems to be feast or famine for me,” he said. “Hopefully, this year it’s feast.”
DIVOTS: It’s been a very different Verizon Heritage for Brian Gay. After winning by a record 10 shots at 20 under in 2009, the defending champion was seven shots behind at even-par 142. … Tour rookie Blake Adams followed a first-round 77 with an 8-under 63. He also tied a tour record by taking just 18 putts. He was five shots behind. … Because 82 players made the even-par cut, the field will be sliced to low 70 and ties after the third round.