Canada’s Nick Taylor, chasing his third US PGA title, birdied five of his last seven holes to grab a two-stroke lead after Friday’s second round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
The 32-year-old from Winnipeg started on the back nine, chipped in for eagle from 66 feet at the par-5 18th and needed relief from a boundary fence and netting on his final hole on the way to firing an eight-under par 62, his career-best PGA round.
Taylor finished 36 holes at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu on 12-under 128 with five American rivals sharing second on 130.
“I’ve putted well the last few days,” Taylor said. “I made some nice par putts. Then I started getting closer and made some putts.
“If I keep driving well, there’s a lot of birdies out there and I need to make as many as I can.”
Taylor made par putts from just inside eight feet at 10 and 13 but missed a six-footer and made bogey at the par-4 14th before lightning struck.
He birdied 15 and 16, then pitched in from a greenside slope, rolling in an eagle in a hint of things to come.
Taylor reeled off a string of impressive birdie putts — from 26 feet at the third, 15 feet at the par-3 fourth and just inside 20 feet at the fifth — then added a six-foot birdie putt at the par-4 eighth to grab the lead alone.
At 18, Taylor’s tee shot landed near a boundary fence and driving range netting. He was able to get relief, punched into the fairway, dropped his approach 2 1/2 feet from the cup and tapped in for birdie after averting near disaster.
“To hit it in there and get birdie was nice,” Taylor said. “It’s a nice finish. It’s nice to walk away with four after everything that happened.”
Major winners Stewart Cink and Webb Simpson shared second with fellow Americans Chris Kirk, Vaughn Taylor and Russell Henley while a pack of eight on 131 included Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Australian Marc Leishman.
“Everything is so bunched so I’m going to have to make as many birdies as possible,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s PGA wins include the 2014 Sanderson Farms Championship and last year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Patience pays off
Cink, 47, won the Safeway Open last September for his seventh PGA title to end an 11-year drought since beating 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff at Turnberry for his first major title.
“Part of my job is to figure out how to make that pop out a little more often,” Cink said. “My good stuff is getting a little bit better. Maybe I’ll have a chance to be up there in contention a little bit more often this year.”
The most spectacular birdie putts for Cink in a round of 63 came from 26 feet at the par-3 seventh, 21 feet at the par-5 ninth and 28 feet at the par-4 12th.
“I haven’t driven it exceptionally or hit my irons exceptionally well, but I’ve putted well,” Cink said. “And when you putt well, it just kind of helps to sort of raise the level the rest of your game.”
Simpson, chasing his eighth PGA victory, made a 13-foot birdie at 16 and a tap-in birdie at the par-5 18th but found water off the tee at the second on the way to his lone bogey before closing with three birdies in a row to fire a 65.
“Staying present this week has allowed me to kind of get through these frustrating moments and finish,” Simpson said. “Being patient on this golf course is paying off.”