Chesson Hadley is off to his best start on the PGA Tour since 2016, shooting a 5-under-par 66 on Friday for a two-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson in the Palmetto Championship in Ridgeland, S.C.
Hadley was at 11-under 131 at Congaree Golf Club, his lowest total through 36 holes since The RSM Classic in 2016.
The top-ranked Johnson, who opened his afternoon round five shots behind early starter Hadley, was tied for the lead through 17 holes. But Johnson drove the ball left on No. 18 and into a thick, deeply rooted patch of tall grass. He took an unplayable lie, hit his third shot over the green, and made a double-bogey 6 for a 68. Still, at 9-under 133, he had his best 36-hole start since winning the Travelers almost a year ago.
“I feel like I’m playing really well,” the South Carolina native said. “So got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing.”
American Tain Lee, a Monday qualifier in just his third career PGA Tour event, was third at 7 under after a 68. A group of six that included Harris English and Erik van Rooyen were five shots behind at 6 under.
Hadley continued his stellar play at Congaree, a fill-in host after the RBC Canadian Open was was called off for a second straight year due to COVID-19.
Hadley followed an opening 65 with seven birdies and two bogeys to top the leaderboard. Coming in, he had missed the cut in 10 of his past 12 events.
“I definitely didn’t see this coming,” he said.
Why would he with his poor stretch of play?
After falling short at the Byron Nelson last month for his fifth straight missed cut, the 33-year-old from North Carolina shut things down for a while to clear his head. “Thank goodness I had three weeks off after that just to kind of completely get that behind me and just think about the future,” he said.
Johnson had four birdies on a six-hole stretch of the back nine to catch Hadley for the lead. Then the bad drive at the last, which Johnson said came when the club slipped in his glove hand.
“That’s a first for me. I obviously was not expecting that,” he said.
Hadley, moved in front at 9 under with a 36-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole. He extended his edge on the 15th, landing his approach within 2 feet of the cup for another birdie. Hadley closed with a flourish after sticking his second shot within 8 feet of the cup for another birdie to finish with day’s lowest round.
Brooks Koepka, who hadn’t played since his runner-up finish at the PGA, struggled for a second straight round and missed the cut after a 73 left him at 3 over.
First-round leader Wes Roach followed his opening 64 with a 77 to fall 10 shots behind Hadley.
LPGA — Danielle Kang birdied the par-5 18th hole for a 6-under 66 and a one-stroke lead in the Mediheal Championship in Daly City, the tour’s second straight event on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Coming off a 35th-place tie last week in the US Women’s Open at nearby Olympic Club, Kang had a 7-under 137 total at Lake Merced for a one-stroke lead over first-round leader Leona Maguire and former Stanford player Lauren Kim.
“It was just warmer weather,” Kang said. “I play well in really hot weather. Evidently, cold weather has not been my forte, but today weather was on my side.”
Kang rebounded from a bogey on the par-4 16th with a 6-foot par save on the par-3 17th and the closing birdie.
The American won in consecutive weeks last summer in Ohio in the LPGA Tour’s return from the coronavirus pandemic. She has five tour victories — the first in 2017 in the major KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — and won the US Women’s Amateur in 2010 and 2011.
Maguire followed her opening 65 with a 73, rebounding after opening with three straight bogeys. The former Duke star from Ireland played alongside the tournament’s two past champions, Sei Young Kim (2018) and Florida neighbor Lydia Ko (2019).
Lauren Kim had her second straight 69.
“This week it’s just amazing to stay at home, sleep in my own bed, and just have the local support and know that people that are rooting for me are close by,” Kim said. “I think that’s really driven me to just kind of let it go this week and hopefully keep it going on the weekend.”
Min Lee was 5 under after a 69.
Lexi Thompson had a 72 to fall to 1 under. On Sunday at Olympic, she blew a five-stroke lead, playing the final seven holes in 5 over to finish a stroke out of a playoff that Yuka Saso won.
Michelle Wie West shot a 75 to make the cut on the number at 4 over, the first time in five events this year that she has advanced to the weekend. Wie West and eight other players got in when Katelyn Dambaugh, playing in the last group off the 10th tee, shot a 72, dropping from 3 under to 5 under with closing bogeys.
Stanford’s Rachel Heck, the NCAA player of the year playing on a sponsor exemption, missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 78 in the group with Wie West.
European mixed — Caroline Hedwall bagged two eagles in her round of 64 as she took the lead after two rounds at the Scandinavian Mixed in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Hedwall, at 13 under in inaugural event, had a one-stroke lead over Joost Luiten (65) and was two shots clear of Darren Fitchardt (67) and Steven Brown (68).
Two other women, Pia Babnik (66) and Stephanie Kyriacou (66), were in the mix at 10 under with Kalle Samooja (69) and Pep Angles (69).
The field of 78 men and 78 women are competing on the same course at Vallda Golf and Country Club for one prize fund of $1 million euros and one trophy, a first on the European Tour.
The tournament is co-hosted by Swedish duo Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson.
Sorenstam (2-over 146) missed the cut, but Stenson (4-under 140) made it through to the weekend, though he was nine shots behind the leader.
After starting at No. 10, Hedwall sank a long putt for eagle at No. 16, as she carded a 31 on the back nine. She holed out from a greenside bunker for another eagle at the sixth.
Champions — Miguel Angel Jimenez had two eagles in a 7-under 65 in hot and humid conditions Friday to take the first-round lead in the American Insurance Championship in Madison, Wis.
“Hot, sweat like a pig,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez eagled the par-5 16th and second holes and had four birdies and a bogey in the round that start on the back nine at University Ridge. The 57-year-old Spaniard has 10 victories on the 50-and-over tour after winning 21 times on the European Tour.
“I’ve been playing very solid. I played very, very solid all day,” Jimenez said. “My putting was working also. That’s what you need.”
Jimenez made a 9-footer on No. 16 and a 2-foot putt on No. 2 as the temperature rose into the low 90s. Late afternoon play was delayed two hours because of lightning.
Defending champion Jerry Kelly was second after a 67 in his hometown event. He eagled the second and had three birdies.
“I just love playing in front of Wisconsin crowds,” Kelly said. “I love it.”
Major champions Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, and Retief Goosen were at 68 with Colin Montgomerie, Ken Tanigawa, and Wes Short Jr.
“To be honest with you, if we did this for another month or so, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s like our first tournament with humid and hot heat,” Couples said.
Tournament host Steve Stricker opened with a 70. The US Ryder Cup captain played alongside Couples and Furyk in the first group off the first tee.
“This is August weather in Wisconsin,” Stricker said. “Like on 18 there with all the stands around there, there’s no breeze whatsoever, so it was very hot at times.”
Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer also shot 70.
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, making his fifth tour start of the year on a sponsor exemption, opened with an 80. He was last among the 80 finishers, a stroke ahead of 71-year-old Andy North and 63-year-old Gary Hallberg.