Even though it’s coming in between the British Open in the middle of July and PGA Championship in the middle of August, the Quicken Loans National event is shaping up to be one of the most notable events of 2015 with Ryo Ishikawa currently in the lead at 11 under.
Of course, that on its own isn’t what makes this interesting. The real storyline for the PGA Tour is Tiger Woods continuing his upward trajectory. The 39-year-old followed up his opening-round 68 with a 66 on Friday.
That leaves Woods firmly in contention heading into Saturday. He’s certainly not alone, as the field is crowded up at the top after 36 holes.
Here’s the full leaderboard following Friday’s action at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club:
Ishikawa wasn’t quite able to duplicate his 63 from Thursday, but there’s nothing wrong with a 68. He took the lead thanks to three consecutive birdies on 16, 17 and 18.
The 23-year-old, along with playing partner Jason Korak, were so close to pulling off one of the most impossible feats in sports, per PGA Tour:
It’s been a long time since Ishikawa has performed this well, missing four cuts and finishing outside the top 70 in three other times since finishing eighth at the Players Championship in May.
Fowler vaulted up the leaderboard with a stellar 65 in which his only big mistake was a bogey on the par-five eighth hole. The 26-year-old was blemish free beyond that, firing seven birdies and putting himself in position to win for the second time in 2015.
Kelly Tilghman of the Golf Channel noted how the karma gods are smiling on Fowler after what happened on Thursday:
Karma may not be as much of a factor in Fowler’s performance as much as talent, but a lot of things are working nicely for him.
Chappell has undergone a dramatic turnaround in a short period of time. He was a mess last week at the RBC Canadian Open, shooting 75 and 74 en route to missing the cut, but that’s turned out to be a one-tournament blip.
Going back to the Greenbrier Classic four weeks ago, Chappell has fired eight rounds under 70, including all four at the John Deere Classic.
The key for Woods’ success so far in this tournament has been on the green. He’s putting as well as he has all year, reaching 12 of his final 14 greens in regulation and getting eight one-putts on Thursday, per Justin Ray of the Golf Channel.
Woods continued that efficiency on Friday, with putts like this on the eighth hole for birdie, via PGA Tour:
The final results bear that out, as ESPN Stats & Info noted Woods’ score to par on Friday was a big deal:
There have been subtle indications, despite the ugly showing at St. Andrews, that Woods was still capable of putting it all together. He played three of four rounds at the Greenbrier classic earlier this month in the 60s.
Yet even with the strong showing today, Woods wasn’t entirely pleased with how things went and acknowledged he left some putts out there, via CBS Sports’ Kyle Porter.
“It doesn’t feel unusual,” said Woods. “I was in this spot at Augusta. Looking forward to getting after it. … I hit the ball really well today. But I missed a few putts. This could have been a really low one.”
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Woods’ current position on the leaderboard is his best after 36 holes since 2013:
While Woods is going to be the top story, fellow American Jimmy Walker posted the best round of the day. He fired an eight-under par 63 to finish tied with Woods and nine other players.
Walker, who is seeking his first win since March, had a four-hole stretch from two through five that went eagle-bogey-birdie-birdie to set the tone for his round. He closed on a high note with four birdies on the back nine.
The 37-year-old didn’t always make things easy on himself, as that eagle on No. 2 required a stellar shot out of a bunker, via PGA Tour:
Making Walker’s round even more impressive is he only hit four fairways. That’s not a sustainable formula for success, but it worked out just fine on Friday.
One thing that’s been made clear through two rounds is closing strong makes all the difference. Woods did it on Thursday with a 31 on the back nine. Ishikawa did it on Friday with that trio of birdies to take the lead.
Heading into the weekend, finishing on a high note will being to provide some separation in this crowded field. The pressure is on Ishikawa to prove his 36-hole start isn’t a fluke, but the rest of the field has to prove they are capable of catching him.