NORTON — When Ryan Palmer walked off TPC Boston on Saturday and signed for an even-par round of 71, he must have assumed the two-shot lead he enjoyed after the first day would disappear, since the Deutsche Bank Championship is synonymous with birdies, eagles, and low scores. Shooting even par usually means getting left behind.
But nobody was able to take the advantage away from Palmer, at least not entirely. Jason Day had the lead to himself briefly, but three back-nine bogeys left Day with a 68, and tied with Palmer at 8 under par.
It’s the large group of followers, though, and not necessarily the second-round leaders, that have combined to create a whole range of possibilities as the second PGA Tour playoff event reaches its halfway point. A bunched leaderboard usually makes for drama and weekend excitement, with the recent PGA Championship and Barclays two of the latest examples. Both tournaments had lots of players in the mix, ping-ponging the lead and demanding great play down the stretch.
At least so far, this year’s DBC lines up similarly. There were 22 players separated by five shots through two rounds, with neither Palmer nor Day able to create the kind of cushion that both flirted with at different times on Saturday.
“I had it going there for a bit, and I thought I was going to keep it going, especially with how I was playing. I felt good,” said Day, who turned five front-nine birdies into a two-stroke lead over Palmer as he made the turn. “It’s difficult to create separation when the greens are bouncing the way they are. It’s very firm. It’s very fast.
“So it does not surprise me. It played very difficult today. It’s going to play difficult over the next two days.”
If so, that should leave plenty of players with a fighting chance. Among the pursuers: Matt Kuchar and Billy Horschel, both of whom shot 66 and were one shot back at 7 under par; five players — Keegan Bradley (71), Bill Haas (69), Russell Henley (66), Webb Simpson (70), and Patrick Reed (68) — were at 6 under, two shots back.
Jordan Spieth (70) and US Open champion Martin Kaymer (66) led the group at 5 under. Lurking five shots back? Rory McIlroy (69) and Rickie Fowler (69).
That’s a lot of names and numbers. But 36 holes have settled virtually nothing here; because of some late eagles and double bogeys, a whopping 80 players from the 93-player field made the cut. Conceivably, all 80 have a shot at becoming the newest DBC champion and jumping into first place in the FedEx Cup points race.
This being a Ryder Cup year, players angling for the attention of each captain are also being watched closely, always a subplot of the DBC in even-numbered years. Palmer, Bradley, Haas, and Simpson all hold aspirations of being added to Tom Watson’s team. That’s four players; Watson has just three captain’s picks.
“I’m certainly not going to make the team unless I win, probably. And that’s what I’m trying to do anyway,” said Haas, who was 28th in the Ryder Cup points standings, but would expect to get strong consideration if he can win the DBC. “I think I just try to focus on this week, and if the Ryder Cup happens, it happens.”
Day doesn’t have to worry about the Ryder Cup; being from Australia, he’s not eligible. His focus rests solely on playing well and improving his standing on the points list (he’s currently seventh).
Day threatened to give himself a nice lead after two rounds. After shooting a 31 on the front nine, he was in front by two and had the easier back nine (at least statistically) left to play.
But he made a bogey at the par-4 12th, a good one, when his approach from the right rough ran through the green and into a back hazard. After taking a penalty drop, he chipped on, then holed a 10-footer.
A bogey at No. 14 dropped him back into a tie with Palmer, but Day rolled in a short birdie putt at the 16th to regain the lead, and with a reachable par-5 awaiting him at No. 18, many figured Day would lead by at least one shot, but maybe two or three.
Instead, he pulled his second shot near the grandstand, ran his third shot through the green and into a bunker, and failed to get up and down from there, making a disappointing 6 on the course’s second-easiest hole.
Call it a missed opportunity. But because of the way the first two days have played out, Day will definitely have more.
It’s how he takes advantage of those that will determine his DBC fate. And all those within shouting distance of the lead, which seems like half the field.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.