Hitting his stride
Brian Harman takes the lead after the second round of the Sony Open
Brian Harman wasn’t sure how he felt about Waialae Country Club after his first couple of trips to Hawaii. The course claimed a special place in his career when he advanced to the weekend in his Sony Open in Hawaii debut in 2012. But his next visit ended early after playing two rounds at 5 over par.
“I made the cut here my rookie year and I was excited about that. I missed the cut my second year and didn’t know if the course suited me or not,” he recalled.
He decided to give the East Oahu layout another shot and has found it a comfortable fit ever since.
Since that missed cut in 2013, Harman failed to break 70 just once over his next 18 tours of Waialae and turned his best round to date with a 7-under 63 on Friday to take a three-shot lead into the weekend at 13 under.
“I like the challenge of the tee shots. I think the greens roll really well, so it sets up well for my eye,” Harman said.
The University of Georgia graduate tied his previous Waialae best with a 64 on Thursday and closed the second round by spinning in an eagle putt on No. 9. He extended his streak of Sony rounds in the 60s to 10 while continuing a torrid start to the wrap-around season.
The 5-foot-7 left-hander opened the Hawaii swing with a third-place finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week. He held a share of the 36-hole lead at Kapalua before being passed by eventual TOC champion Dustin Johnson and again will lead the field into the weekend.
“I’m just going to show up (today) and try to hit the first tee shot best you can and go from there,” Harman said. “There’s no magic formula. There’s no reason to change. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.” And why not?
Harman was 90th in the world before winning the Wells Fargo Championship last May and tied for second at the U.S. Open. He began this season by placing in the top five in four of his first five events. The outlier was an eighth at the HSBC Champions in October.
Harman credited his recent run to a change to a Titleist ball last year and jumped to No. 23 in the world after his week at Kapalua. He’s so far transitioned to the far flatter but tighter fairways at Waialae just fine.
“Last week all the balls end up in sort of the same place,” Harman said. “It’s pretty generous in most of the spots over there. Whereas here, some holes here you feel like there’s no fairway. Holes like 6 and 13, I hit two perfect ones today and was still in the rough.”
He managed pars at both and hit 14 of 18 fairways in a round highlighted by six birdies and the closing 17foot eagle putt that circled the cup before falling.
First-round co-leaders Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk enter the second round still tied and part of a pack of five golfers chasing Harman at 10 under.
Johnson, the 2009 champion, was plodding along at even par through 15 holes before rolling in a 6-footer for birdie on the par-3 seventh and finishing with a 27foot putt for eagle on No. 9 to move to 10 under.
“Technically, my mind-set is going to be pretty aggressive,” Johnson said. “You’ve still got to put a number up here at Waialae because guys are so good, and I think slightly widening the fairways and the greens holding, you’ve got to be aggressive.”
Kirk began his round with a chip-in eagle on No. 10 and was alone in second for much of the afternoon. But he slipped back to the pack with a costly bogey on the par-5 ninth to finish with a 67.
“Definitely could have been better, but also made some really nice saves when I didn’t hit great shots on the front nine,” Kirk said. “l’ll get a little bit of rest and be fresh and ready to go tomorrow.”
Kirk and Harman were teammates at Georgia in 2006 and ’07, and their history together stretches even farther back.
“I’ve known and played a lot of golf with Brian since I was 13 years old, both growing up in Georgia, so we’ve remained close friends since and he’s been on a tear lately,” Kirk said.
John Peterson played his front nine at a striking 29, played even par on the back and finished with a 64 to enter today’s play part of the group at 10 under.
“I made like a 50-footer on 4, and then I hit it to 8 feet on 5. I was like, man, I could shoot 59 today,” Peterson said. “And then I just didn’t make anything after that.
But it was a fun day.”
Tom Hoge closed with four consecutive birdies and signed for his second straight 65 to join the group at 10 under.
At the end of the day
Talor Gooch birdied his last hole of the round to finish 10 under and tied for second with four others.
Defending champion Justin Thomas turned in a second straight 67 to enter the weekend lurking at 6 under. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth was dancing on the cut line for much of the day, but safely made it into the weekend at 3 under with a round of 68.
Brian Harman teed off at the first hole as Billy Hurley III, left, watched in the second round of the Sony Open on Friday.
Chris Kirk, left, hit from the fairway onto the 16th green while caddie Shannon Wallis watched. Talor Gooch, below, teed off at the 10th hole during the second round of the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club.