The 2014 PGA Championship facilitated numerous low scores during the opening round, and with Friday's forecast projecting precipitation at Valhalla Golf Club, red numbers should continue to be had by golf's top stars.
Weather.com's latest updates out of Louisville, Kentucky, suggest at least a 50 percent chance of rain on Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Those conditions will tend to favor longer hitters, who won't be impacted as much by the increased length.
A three-way cluster atop the leaderboard at six under is headlined by Lee Westwood, whose close calls at majors are well-documented. It stands to reason that Westwood can stave off the likes of unheralded Americans in Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell to remain in contention.
But the true test for Westwood will be front-running with many capable players chasing him. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is chief among them at five under; he's just one stroke back despite a bad double bogey at the par-five 10th hole.
Reigning FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, like Westwood, is seeking his first major and matched McIlroy with a 66 to start. The way McIlroy and Stenson strike it ought to intimidate the rest of the field, but the ever-gritty Jim Furyk also posted five under with more precision than power.
Here is a look at some of the marquee groups for Friday's second round, along with predictions as to how the tournament will unfold.
|7:30 a.m.||Shane Lowry, Bob Sowards and Ryan Moore|
|8:15 a.m.||Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker and Tom Watson|
|8:35 a.m.||Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer|
|1:15 p.m.||Rickie Fowler, Victor Dubuisson and Ernie Els|
|1:25 p.m.||Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood|
|1:35 p.m.||Jimmy Walker, Ian Poulter and Jason Day|
|1:45 p.m.||Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods|
Round 2 PGA Championship Predictions
Lee Westwood Stays Strong
Until shooting a 63 to close the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this last Sunday, not much had gone right for Westwood as of late. Apparently, that round provided the spark he needed as he continues his pursuit of a first major.
Like McIlroy had to, Westwood overcame a double bogey to start his back nine at the par-four No. 1, responding with five birdies on his final six holes. That included the last four consecutively, capped by a 40-foot bonus bomb:
Westwood has few opportunities left to become a major champion. So many close calls have haunted him in the past, but he's often not let it show.
Golf Central noted just how positive Westwood's start to the PGA Championship was:
Lee Westwood's 6-under 65 is his lowest career opening round in a major. #PGAChamp— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) August 7, 2014
The problem for Westwood in majors hasn't been the first 36 holes or even the first 54. That trend ought to continue, and he may even play brilliantly for all four rounds and still not win.
All Westwood can do is keep his head down, stick to his game plan and hope to roll in more putts than he's accustomed to in order to have a shot at the Wanamaker Trophy.
Prediction: Westwood shoots three-under 68 and remains in the top five.
Projecting Biggest Friday Movers
For one, look out for Rickie Fowler. A fifth place at the Masters was backed up by two joint runner-up finishes in the past two majors. Fowler has just one PGA Tour victory on his resume, but he's played well enough to win as of late on the biggest stages.
Although what he said after his round may have been cliche, Fowler nevertheless brought up a valid point about how Thursday could have gone, per the event's official Twitter account:
Starting on the back nine, the young American bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14 before rattling off five birdies in the next eight holes, with the only other blemish coming on his last hole at the par-four ninth.
Similar strength was shown from another of the game's premier young talents in Fowler's playing partner, Victor Dubuisson. The 24-year-old Frenchman hit just nine of 18 greens in regulation yet still managed to match Fowler with a two-under 69.
Coming off a top 10 at The Open Championship in which he bested McIlroy's score over the last 54 holes, Dubuisson just needs to tighten up his iron play. Wet second-round conditions, combined with Dubuisson's distance and tidy short game, should lend to a rather low number.
Then there's Phil Mickelson, who shot an eight-under 62 in the final round at Firestone last week but got off to a rocky start on Thursday. However, Lefty turned it on, playing the last 10 holes at four under to salvage two under for the day.
Playing alongside Tiger Woods, who will do well to just make the cut after a three-over 74, Mickelson wasn't as wayward off the tee as he often is, finding 10 of 14 fairways in regulation. That is important with the troublesome rough and boundaries that flank Valhalla's short grass.
Mickelson is still in the thick of things, and based on how he closed the first round and how he's driving the ball, a low number is out there for him at Valhalla.
Projected Round 2 scores: Fowler 67 (-4), Dubuisson 68 (-3), Mickelson 67 (-4)
Rory McIlroy Seizes 36-Hole Lead
Let's be real: McIlroy should be at the top already if not for a few putts burning the edges and a woeful swing that saw his second shot go out of bounds on the 10th hole.
"It sort of knocked me off track a little bit b/c it was one of the only bad shots I've hit in the last few weeks." -@McIlroyRory on 10 shot— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) August 7, 2014
Even with the big number and a subsequent bogey at the par-three 11th, check out how impressive McIlroy's reign of terror on the links has been as of late, per Golf Channel's Justin Ray:
Rory McIlroy's last 9 rounds: all under par, combined -37, scoring avg 66.89, 51 birdies/eagles.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 7, 2014
As inconsistent as McIlroy has been at times, he has shown an uncanny knack for bouncing back. Thursday's round of 66 was a microcosm of that:
But as Shane Bacon of Yahoo Sports suggested, it showcased how he is evolving:
Different Rory McIlroy the last few months. He used to let rounds get away from him. Today, just stepped harder on the gas after 10 & 11.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 7, 2014
Jason Sobel summed up how many felt after witnessing the way McIlroy handled adversity:
Rory McIlroy entered this week as the prohibitive favorite. Now he's even more prohibitive and even more of a favorite.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 7, 2014
Who will lead the PGA Championship following Friday's second round?
Check out these numbers from tee to green: 327.5 yards average driving distance, 12 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens in regulation, missing just one on the back. Should McIlroy keep that going and hole just a few more putts than he is right now, no one is going to stop him, particularly with how Friday's forecast plays into his favor.
Going out in the morning wave allows McIlroy to post a gaudy number, as opposed to chasing one down, which he did in such impressive fashion in the opening round. McIlroy is showing no signs of easing up, as evident in his mid-round resurgence at Valhalla to start the PGA Championship.
No one should be surprised if McIlroy collects his fourth major, second Wanamaker Trophy and third consecutive victory overall when this one is over. A number of capable challengers loom, but McIlroy is so far up the leaderboard already that he likely won't look back if and when he takes the lead into the weekend.
Prediction: McIlroy shoots a six-under 65 and leads by two strokes.