English seizes two-stroke PGA Tournament of Champs lead
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Los Angeles (AFP) –
Harris English closed with a 10-foot birdie to fire a six-under par 67 and seize a two-stroke lead after Friday's second round of the US PGA Tournament of Champions.
The 31-year-old American made six birdies in a bogey-free round to stand on 14-under 132 after 36 holes on the par-73 Plantation course at Kapalua, Hawaii.
"I feel good about my game right now," English said. "I felt like I played really solid. Just didn't hole as many putts as I did in the first round. I drove the ball really well and hit a lot of greens in regulation.
"If I keep shooting six-under it's going to be a good score at the end of the week."
Americans Justin Thomas, Ryan Palmer, Collin Morikawa and Daniel Berger shared second on 134 with South Korean Im Sung-jae and Americans Brendon Todd, Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele on 135.
World number one Dustin Johnson, in his return after winning the Masters in November, was among seven on 136 ahead of the weekend shootout.
"You've got to go low out here," English said. "I'm going to try to make as many birdies as I can. I've got to keep the pedal down."
English, who has already matched last year's winning total, has not won a solo PGA event since 2013 at Mayakoba but qualified for Hawaii by reaching the Tour Championship in a one-year entry rule change due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I can't go out there trying to win," English said of ending his win drought. "I keep putting myself in these positions. I know it's going to happen. I've got to get out of my own way. I hope I can put myself in that position on Sunday."
English, whose most recent 36-hole lead was in 2019 at Mayakoba, sank a 22-foot birdie putt at the third, tapped in for birdies at the par-5 fifth and ninth and par-4 10th.
He seized the lead alone at 13-under by sinking a five-foot birdie putt at the par-5 15th and made another five-footer to save par at 17 before his clutch birdie at the par-5 18th.
Defending champion Thomas, ranked third, birdied the last after hitting the flagstick to shoot 69 and grab a share of second.
"Played really well. Score didn't show it," Thomas said. "I truly don't think I've ever had a round where I've putted it so well and had nothing go in. I stayed positive and I've got two rounds to figure it out."
Seventh-ranked Morikawa, last year's PGA Championship winner, and 13th-ranked Berger, playing together, each fired eight-under 65s to share second.
"We played great all day," Berger said. "Put myself in good position going into the weekend. It was an important day to keep myself in contention.
"Collin and I got into a little bit of a rhythm and fed off each other, made some nice birdies here and there."
Added Morikawa: "Overall the round was really good. Hit it well off the tee, struck it well... I was putting really well."
- 'Birdie-fest' -
Palmer fired his second 67 to stay in the chase pack.
"I knew I had to play a good round to keep pace and I was able to do that. A very satisfying 18 holes of golf for sure," Palmer said. "Just keep the pedal to the metal. It's going to be a race to the finish: birdie-fest."
Sixth-ranked Schauffele, the 2019 winner, closed with an 81-foot eagle putt.
"It was nice to make that really long eagle putt at the last," he said. "I knew I needed to make up some ground."
Johnson, a two-time Champions winner, fired a 65.
"I hit a lot of good golf shots. Had a lot of good looks at birdie. I kept burning the edges," Johnson said. "Hopefully I'll make a few more putts this weekend."
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