ST. LOUIS — Birdie putts were falling like raindrops, and there were plenty of both. It was hard to tell what to expect on the even softer greens for the weekend at the PGA Championship, especially because half the field still has to finish the second round. It is safe to say they all would be where Gary Woodland was when play was suspended Friday: Done and No. 1.
Scoring was stunningly low by major championship standards, which suggested that anyone could move past Woodland, who was in at 10 under through two rounds at Bellerive Country Club, one shot ahead of his friend Kevin Kisner, who was in the same group. Brooks Koepka and Charl Schwartzel each shot 63, tying the PGA Championship record, and Kisner shot 64.
Who knows what the afternoon wave would have produced if not for the storms? Tiger Woods drew the loudest roars from a large, energetic crowd as he birdied three of the seven holes he played to go 3 under. Tony Finau made eight birdies, a triple bogey and bogey to go from 4 over to even in his 11 holes. Rickie Fowler was 2 under through 10 to reach 7 under.
“I feel safe because I feel safe where my game is,” said Woodland, who built on his first-round lead by shooting 4-under-par 66. “I’m not too worried with what anyone else is doing out there. The golf course is gettable, I think. For me, I’m very happy with where I’m at. I’m very comfortable with how I’m driving the golf ball . . . and when I stand over a golf ball, putting as comfortable as I am right now, I’m pretty excited.”
About the only thing from which Woodland is not feel safe was banter from Kisner, who played alongside him and was tied for the lead before making bogey on the last hole, the par-4 ninth.
“His kid got my kid sick. We have been arguing about that all week,” Kisner said, having shot 29 on his first nine, the back side. “It was funny, both our kids were sick on Monday and we were blaming each other for it. Pretty interesting. Gary and I are good buddies, we had a great time out there playing. And if I could only hit it as far as he could it would be a different game.”
Kisner cannot hit the ball as far as Woodland does and never would dream of going for the 597-yard par-5 17th in two for eagle as Woodland did Friday. But he was certain that the conditions — greens softened by Tuesday downpours after an uneven growing season — represented an equalizer. “My 4-iron stops as quick as his 7-iron. If they were firm, I don't think I would have a chance with the way the greens are situated and the places they're putting the flags,” Kisner said.
Both of them are on equal footing in terms of major championships won. They are tied at zero. Kisner led or co-led after each of the first three rounds of last year’s PGA Championship then fell to a tie for seventh. “It's golf, man, that's all I've ever done. I’ve won everywhere I ever been, if I shoot the lowest score, I win,” he said.
Woodland’s sore spot always has been on the greens, a weakness that he has addressed in lessons with short-game guru Phil Kenyon. “I knew if I could make putts, everything else would come together pretty quickly,” the leader said.
But there remained the open question of how the greens would be on Saturday, and how it might affect those finishing their second rounds in the morning. Another question was whether this week would have a true major championship feel.
“This course would be phenomenal, and probably is phenomenal, if it’s not playing so soft,” said Jordan Spieth, who is aiming for the career Grand Slam and is at 3 under after shooting 66. “You just fire in and you get away with more, you don't have to be as precise. I'm not saying that my score would be any better, I'm just saying (it’s not) what you would like to see in a major championship.”