TULSA, Oklahoma (Reuters) – It was smooth sailing for Will Zalatoris at the PGA Championship on Friday, taking the second round lead after whipping winds at Southern Hills Country Club left many major hopes in tatters.
On a far from perfect day for golf Zalatoris took full advantage of improving conditions late in the round to return an error free five-under 65 to sit one clear of little known Chilean Mito Pereira with a midway total of nine-under 131.
While there is plenty of golf to be played still the result is a good omen for the 25-year-old American.
Seven previous majors have been contested at Southern Hills, and in each of them the winner owned at least a share of the 36-hole lead.
“I’ve got a long 36 holes ahead of me,” cautioned Zalatoris. “I think history to me, it is what it is, but I’m going to go out and do my job, and hopefully it’s enough at the end.”
Pereira, playing in just his second major, also benefited from a late start, carding a 64 to get to eight-under and move two ahead of Justin Thomas, who was out early and spent much of his round battling gusting winds on way to 67.
Bubba Watson, another late starter, turned in the round of the day, a 63 to equal the PGA Championship 18-hole scoring record, to sit alone in fourth, one ahead of first round leader Rory McIlroy, who laboured to a 71.
The day was one of sharp contrast with the morning and afternoon waves played in dramatically different conditions.
Faced with gusts of up to 40 mph (65 kph) morning starters were left cursing their luck as they watched shots sail wide and long, while the afternoon groups enjoyed improving conditions that allowed them to attack pins.
“We lucked out with the draw for sure,” said Zalatoris. “I played the last eight holes with not much wind, but take it when you can get it.
“I got away with murder a few times today for sure.”
While Zalatoris was among those to enjoy a bit of good fortune seeing his name on the leaderboard at a major is not an unfamiliar sight.
He has contested only six majors, missing the cut in two, but in the four others finished no worse than a tie for eighth, including a solo runnerup result at the 2021 Masters.
Pereira, though, is an outright golfing mystery man. His only other major appearance came at the 2019 U.S. Open where he missed the cut.
“I’ve kind of had an attitude with the majors, especially since the Masters, where I wanted to enjoy the experience as much as I could,” said Zalatoris. “I just make sure that after really every single shot I hit, it’s just — I don’t want to say life or death, but make sure I’m fully committed to everything that I do because we only get four of them a year.”
Tiger Woods, in his second start since a February 2021 car crash that almost resulted in the amputation of his right leg, spent Friday fighting to make the cut.
That battle seemed over when a double bogey at the par three 11th sent him to five-over but as always Woods refused to wave the white flag,
The 46-year-old showed once again why he is recognised as one of sport’s great battlers, hitting back with birdies at 13 and 16 for a 69 to slip under the four-over cut.
Woods has always maintained he never enters a tournament unless he can win and even though he just scraped into the weekend would not rule out his chances of hoisting the Wanamaker trophy on Sunday,
“You can’t win the tournament if you miss the cut,” said Woods. “I’ve won tournaments — not major championships, but I’ve won tournaments on the cut number.
“There’s a reason why you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance on the weekend.
“You just never know when you might get hot.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Martyn Herman, Ken Ferris and Richard Pullin)