Friday's golf: Bryson DeChambeau birdies his way to 1-shot lead in Mexico
Mexico City — Bryson DeChambeau kept making so many birdies in the Mexico Championship that when he rolled in his ninth one from 45 feet, all he could do was throw his hands in the air in pure wonder.
He wasn’t alone Friday in making birdies, although Rory McIlroy would like to have joined the party.
DeChambeau made seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch at Chapultepec Golf Club for an 8-under 63, giving him a one-shot lead over Erik van Rooyen of South Africa and Patrick Reed at the halfway point of this World Golf Championship. DeChambeau was at 11-under 131.
Van Rooyen, who played college golf at Minnesota, celebrated his 30th birthday by making nine birdies to tie the course record with a 62. Reed made five birdies on the back nine for a 63
Justin Thomas ran off four straight birdies to end the back nine, and then holed a 35-foot eagle putt to build a three-shot lead through 10 holes. That was gone in a matter of four holes as player after player kept rolling in putts on a day with much less wind and far better scoring. The average score 70.28, more than two shots better than Thursday.
Hideki Matusyama was 9 under for his round through 15 holes and had a 20-footer birdie attempt from the fringe on the par-3 seventh. He missed that 3 feet to the left, then missed the next one. He bogeyed the next hole, too, and had to settle for a 64. That left him at 9-under 133, along with Thomas, who had to settle for a 66.
McIlroy wasn’t so fortunate. Staked to a two-shot lead at the start of the day, he opened with eight straight pars, didn’t make a birdie until his 12th hole and fell six shots behind at one point. Two birdies at the end gave him a 69, and the world’s No. 1 player was only three shots behind.
“I made eight pars in a row, and then it’s like, ‘OK, you’re either going to make a birdie or a bogey. What’s going to come first?’ And I ended up making bogey,” McIlroy said. “There’s a long way to go.”
DeChambeau can use all the science he wants with calculations for altitude and air density. The difference for him on this day wasn’t that difficult to figure out.
“I just made a lot of putts today,” he said.
His big run began on the 18th hole with a 15-foot birdie putt. He got up-and-down from short of the green on the reachable par-4 first hole, made a 15-footer on the net hole, added a few birdies inside 6 feet, and then made a 25-foot birdie. That apparently wasn’t enough.
His tee shot on the 223-yard seventh hole with a green fronted by water went toward the back of the putting surface, leaving DeChambeau a downhill putt that is tough to lag. His putt was perfect pace, and a perfect line, as it turned out.
“I just threw my hands up in the air. I mean, come on. Who thinks I’m going to make this one?” DeChambeau said. “Matt (Fitzpatrick) just looked at me and he was like, ‘What are you doing? Go get a lottery ticket or something.’”
Reed seems to play his best with a chip on his shoulder, and his 63 comes after a week in which Brooks Koepka and ex-CBS broadcaster Peter Kostis brought up his rules violation in the Bahamas, stirring more bad memories.
“I’m not going to lie, just the whole thing on the outside distracts us from our ultimate goal, and that’s to go out and play great golf and continue to try to improve every day on and off the golf course,” Reed said. “As long as you’re doing that, then you’re living the right way. So at the end of the day, you can’t please everybody, and I feel like I’m doing everything I need to be doing to continue to strive in the game of golf, hopefully on and off the golf course.”
Most intriguing of the lot is van Rooyen, who finished the year among the top 50 to earn his first trip to the Masters.
Now it’s about building a schedule on the road to Augusta. He has a sponsor exemption to the Honda Classic — van Rooyen moved to the area last summer — and needs to be in the top 50 each of the next two weeks to get into the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship. He currently is at No. 52.
“I think at a tournament like this and a field like this, if you can play well, you can play well anywhere,” van Rooyen said. “So if I continue the way I’m going, it’ll be a big confidence booster.”
Defending champion Dustin Johnson continued to struggle. A two-time winner in Mexico, Johnson has made only three birdies in two days. He shot 71 on Friday and was 16 shots behind.
PGA Tour rookie Viktor Hovland shot a 6-under 66 at windy Coco Beach for a share of the Puerto Rico Open lead.
With most of the top players in the world at the World Golf Championship event in Mexico, the 22-year-old Norwegian eagled the par-5 second and rebounded from a late bogey on a par 5 with a birdie to join first-round leader Kyle Stanley, Josh Teater and Emiliano Grillo at 10-under 134. Ryan Brehm (Mount Pleasant/Michigan State) shot 73 and is at 18-under 142.
“I feel like the wind is blowing out of the same direction here every day, so I think we’ll see the course playing very similar to the first couple days,” Hovland said. “I’m sure the pins are going to be a little more tucked in the corners the next two days, so it will be interesting to see how it plays.”:
Hovland dropped a stroke on the par-5 15th, then got back to 10 under with a birdie on the par-4 17th. The former Oklahoma State player won the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, then became the first player since Matt Kuchar in 1998 to sweep low amateur honors at the Masters and U.S. Open.
“It’s been pretty windy, which I’m kind of used to in Oklahoma,” Hovland said. “I’ve just been playing good the last couple weeks. Not as good as I would have liked, but I’m definitely trending in the right direction, so it will be fun to play the weekend.”
Stanley followed an opening 64 with a 70.
“You don’t get really too many straight down or straight in, it’s just a ton of crosswinds,” Stanley said. “That can be kind of tough to control your ball in those conditions. My miss right now is a little bit of a right ball, so I’m loving the right-to-left wind holes and I need to get a little more comfortable on some of the left-to-right ones.”
Grillo birdied the final two holes in a 68.
“A little bit up and down with the tee shots, but it’s been good so far,” Grillo said. “I kept the ball in front of me. I was able to convert pretty much every single time that I had a chance.”
Teater also shot 68.
“I think a lot of times I get in this wind and I try to fight it, just kind of maybe get my ball position too far back,” Teater said. “I kind of made an adjustment to put it up a little bit and kind of let it help me instead of try to fight it. And on top of that, I think I’m rolling the ball well.”
Sam Ryder was a stroke back after a 65. David Lingmerth (65), Ben Martin (66), Rhein Gibson (70) and Martin Laird (69) were 8 under.
Defending champion Martin Trainer missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 73. Tom Lewis, the highest-ranked player in the world in the field at No. 57, also failed to advance. He shot 73 -76.