St. Simons Island, Ga. — Five tournaments into his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Mackenzie Hughes has the 36-hole lead at Sea Island and expects a few nerves.
That weekend he spent with Phil Mickelson should at least help.
Hughes had another bogey-free round Friday and took care of the par 5s on the Plantation Course for a 5-under 67, giving him a two-shot lead over C.T. Pan going into the weekend of the RSM Classic, the final PGA Tour event of the year.
Hughes at was at 14-under 128.
Pan also is a rookie, and perhaps they can take inspiration from rookie Cody Gribble winning in Mississippi three weeks ago. Hughes and Pan both spent last year on the Web.com Tour to earn their cards.
“There’s going to be nerves tomorrow, and I’m going to be a little jittery starting out, but that’s completely natural,” Hughes said. “But I just think guys come off the Web.com Tour that … for example, I won in Missouri and I feel like the win translates to being able to win out here. The margin is so small that the things I did on that weekend to win that tournament are the same things I’ll have to do Saturday and Sunday.”
Hughes started his rookie season in the Safeway Open, made the cut and wound up in the same group with Mickelson, who attracted the largest gallery.
“The atmosphere was a dream start for me,” Hughes said. “We played the first day, and I had a 9-footer on 19 to make par and stay tied with him. I was so pumped that I made it because I got one more round out of it. He was a super nice guy, really welcoming. It was a nice way to break yourself in.”
There wasn’t much of a gallery at Sea Island on another pristine day for scoring, so ideal that the cut came at 5-under par. That probably won’t change for the weekend, especially with tournament host Davis Love III and Sea Island neighbors Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar among those missing the cut.
Even so, it was an experience that could come in handy for the 25-year-old Canadian.
“Being with him for two days and with his galleries and all the distractions going on there, that’s probably as good a preparation as you would have for tomorrow and Sunday,” Hughes said. “There was so much learning going on that weekend that I’ll be able to apply.”
It was the lowest cut on the PGA Tour since 5 under at the 2015 Zurich Classic.
Hughes opened with a 9-under 61 on the Seaside course at Sea Island, while he didn’t hit the ball as cleanly over at Plantation, he had few complaints. He picked up three of his birdies at the par 5s, even on the 18th when he found a fairway bunker off the tee and had to lay up. He hit wedge to 8 feet and made the putt.
“Today was definitely a little more work,” Hughes said, though he quickly added that 67 was “no slouch of a score and I would take two more of those in a heartbeat.”
Hughes and Pan, who shot a 64 at Seaside, played together on the Canadian Tour two years ago, and then all last year on the Web.com Tour. Pan had a brief stay atop the world amateur ranking in 2013 when he won eight times at Washington, and he made the cut as an amateur at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
They will be joined in the final group by Hudson Swafford, who lives at Sea Island and shot a 67 on the Plantation. Swafford was three shots behind, along with Chad Campbell, Chesson Hadley and Blayne Barber.
“It should be fun,” Pan said. “We played on the Canadian tour last year, and then we played the Web.com Tour this year and now we are both on the PGA Tour. So it’s exciting to see both of us play well out there, because it’s a dream come true for both of us.”
That much was clear when Hughes came into the media center for an interview. He left his seat, walked to the back of the room and handed his phone to his mother to take a picture. It was that kind of moment for him.
Even with a two-shot lead, however, the conditions have been such that low scores are available to anyone at any time. Twenty-five players were separated by just five shots with two more rounds to play.
That group includes Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink. Four shots behind was Jonathan Byrd, a five-time PGA Tour winner who spent last year on the Web.com Tour and still doesn’t have full status. He is playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption and wants to make the most out of limited chances like this.
At Naples, Florida, Lydia Ko shot a tournament-record 10-under 62 to take a three-stroke lead in the CME Group Tour Championship, putting the top-ranked New Zealander in position to win the player of the year award with a victory Sunday.
The 2014 winner at Tiburon Golf Club, Ko birdied four of the first six holes and had seven birdies and a bogey on the back nine to get to 12-under 132 in the season finale. Ryann O’Toole (67) and So Yeon Ryu (68) were tied for second, and Sei Young Kim (68) and Beatriz Recari (68) followed at 8 under.
Ko needs a victory to top Ariya Jutanugarn in the player of the year race, and also would take the season points title and $1 million bonus with a win. The points in the CME Globe standings were reset for the finale, so Ko, Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson all control their destinies.
Ko is fighting Jutanugarn for the money title and In Gee Chun for the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. Jutanugarn, the tour victory leader with five, was tied for 19th at 4 under after a 68. Chun (69) was tied for sixth at 7 under, and Henderson (72) was tied for 38th at even par.
The 62 matched Ko’s lowest score of the season, shot in the second round of her Walmart NW Arkansas victory in June. She has four victories this year.
First-round leader Shanshan Feng followed her opening 66 with a 73 to drop into a tie for 16th at 5 under. The Chinese star is coming off consecutive victories in Malaysia and Japan.
At Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Italy’s Francesco Molinari shared the lead in the European Tour’s season-ending World Tour Championship.
They each shot 5-under 67 to reach 9-under 135 at Jumeirah’s Earth Course.
First-round leader Lee Westwood of England was a stroke back after a 70.
Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson stayed in touch with his rivals for the season points title. The Swede shot a 69 to reach 3 under, the same as No. 2 Danny Willett (70), and one behind compatriot Alex Noren (69). Rory McIlroy was 1 under after a 68.
Ay Sydney, Australia’s James Nitties played his final nine holes in 29 for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead. Nitties, ranked 732nd in the world, had a 9-under 135 total at Royal Sydney.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox was second after his second 68. Australia’s Rhein Gibson (66) was 7 under, and Australian star Adam Scott (65) topped the group at 6 under.
American Jordan Spieth was tied for ninth at 5 under after a 70.