Friday's golf: Rahm happy with 1-shot lead, not so much with FedEx format

Associated Press

Jersey City, N.J. — Jon Rahm is young enough at 26 that the FedEx Cup has been a big part of the PGA Tour as long as he has been chasing his dreams, and winning the trophy would mean a lot to him.

He just doesn't like the way it works, and building a one-shot lead Friday in The Northern Trust was only a reminder that great golf doesn't really mean much without a great finish.

Jon Rahm, of Spain, acknowledges spectators after sinking his putt on the 14th green in the second round at the Northern Trust golf tournament, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J.

“I don't like it. I don't think it's fair,” Rahm said Friday after another bogey-free round at Liberty National, this one a 4-under 67 for a one-shot lead over Tony Finau.

What never made sense to him was someone who could win the all the postseason tournaments and then finish with a dud at the Tour Championship and “you can end up with a really bad finish.”

The PGA Tour was trying to create drama among more than a few players at the final event. This is the postseason, and the example often cited was the New England Patriots going undefeated until losing the Super Bowl.

Rahm had an answer for that, too.

“They still finished second,” he said.

For now, Rahm can only worry about the tournament at hand, and while he has produced a mixture of great shots and great saves to reach 12-under 130, he still has his hands full.

“Believe it or not, hit my fair share of bad shots today,” Rahm said. “Much like yesterday, I was able to save a couple of good ones. ... Coming into the weekend, I'm definitely going to have to clean a couple of those mistakes up.”

Finau had a 64 with a bogey on the final hole as he tries to secure another spot among the 30 who make it to the season-ending Tour Championship, along with boosting his bid to play his way onto another Ryder Cup team.

Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele tied his personal best on the PGA Tour and the course record at Liberty National with a 62 and was in the group at 10-under 132 along with Justin Thomas (69) and Keith Mitchell (64).

Thomas, who shared the 18-hole lead with Rahm, couldn't figure out which way the ball was going in making four bogeys in eight holes, only to play his last five holes in 5 under — that included an eagle at the par-5 eighth — to stay in the mix.

Mitchell did his work at the start of his round by running off six straight birdies, a streak that ended on the 18th hole as he made the turn. He took two shots to get out of a longer bunker and made double bogey on No. 7, only to close with two birdies.

More is it stake for Mitchell, who is No. 101 in the FedEx Cup and needs a high finish to be among the top 70 who advance to next week at the BMW Championship.

Jordan Spieth got back in the game with a consecutive eagles — he holed out from the fairway on the par-4 fifth and holed a chip from the edge of the water on the par-5 sixth — and tied the course record himself at 62. That left him four behind, along with Brooks Koepka (64).

Spieth started the day worried about making the cut, especially after a bogey on the opening hole. He ended it in a tie for 10th, and figures he led the field in luck with those eagles.

“When things starting well, you go on a run, right? You get momentum and the ball finds the cup and when it’s not going well it bounces the wrong way,” he said. “I feel like I’m on the right side of some momentum right now and I just have to keep it going.”

For others, their season is over.

Adam Scott, who missed a 4-foot putt in a playoff that would have won the Wyndham Championship last week, followed an opening 67 with a 75 to miss the cut by one shot. He was among 28 players outside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup who missed the cut.

Rahm isn't the only player who doesn't like the postseason model.

The new system that began in 2019 awards a two-shot lead to the No. 1 seed at the Tour Championship who starts at 10-under par.

“At the end of the day you could win 15 events, including both playoff events, and you have a two-shot lead,” Rahm said. “I understand it's for TV purposes and excitement and just making it more a winner-take-all and they gave you a two-shot advantage. But over four days, that can be gone in two holes, right?”

He doesn't have a solution of his own. And he does like the idea that with a staggered start of 10 under for the top seed down to even par for the final five players in the 30-man field, at least players know what they have to do.

He just knows the FedEx Cup is a trophy he'd like to have.

“It's a trophy that a very select group of people are going to be able to put their name on,” he said. “It’s one of those, kind of like in majors and great events like The Players, to where ... you have to show up and play good."

For now, Rahm can only do so much, and the world's No. 1 player is doing it well.

LPGA

Nelly Korda could barely raise a smile after tapping in for the first birdie of her second round at the Women’s British Open.

On a day her putter turned cold, it had taken 14 holes for the world’s top-ranked player to pick up a shot at Carnoustie.

“Just a little punch of reality that I’m human,” Korda said.

Some of her big rivals had no such problems Friday.

Georgia Hall, the 2018 champion, overcame a double-bogey at the 15th hole — the start of a brutal finish at the storied Scottish links course — to shoot 3-under 69 and take a share of the 36-hole lead with Mina Harigae of the United States (67) on 7 under overall.

One stroke back was No. 4 Sei Young Kim (71), a major champion from last year, and Lizette Salas (69), who finished second to Korda at the PGA Championship in June.

Lexi Thompson, looking to add to her sole major win in 2014, shot 70 and was part of a group of seven players on 5 under.

Then came Korda, who was with five others — including 2019 champion Hinako Shibuno and last month's Evian Championship winner Minjee Lee — on 4 under. Korda, the new superstar of women’s golf and the recently crowned Olympic champion, shot 1-over 73 and was one of only two players in the top 17 on the leaderboard to shoot over par on another benign day when the wind held off and it felt almost balmy at times near the east coast of Scotland.

Hall was hoping that wouldn’t last.

“I think it’s about time it got windy,” Hall said, looking ahead to conditions at the weekend which are forecast to turn much more challenging. “It’s proper links golf and that’s what people want to see and I think it makes golf much more interesting when there’s a lot of wind. So I’m quite excited to play in it.”

Hall, who won her favorite event three years ago at Royal Lytham, rolled in six birdies in her first 14 holes to move into a one-stroke lead on 9 under.

The double-bogey 6 at No. 15 dropped her into what would shortly be a four-way tie for the lead and she parred her way home to join Harigae, who rolled in a long, winding birdie putt at the last to complete a round of 67 that contained seven birdies in all.

In the last five years at the Women’s Open, no player has more rounds in the 60s than Hall’s nine and that is filling the 25-year-old English golfer with confidence heading into the weekend.

“I do feel very calm when I am playing the British Open,” Hall said.

“It is just so nice to play in front of the crowds. We missed that last year and to hear them cheering my name is great. I’m having a lot of fun.”

That’s something Korda didn’t seem to have.

Even making a big right-to-left putt for birdie at 17 failed to cheer up the world’s best player, who parred her first eight holes that were characterized by a series of missed putts from mid-range, even if her tee-to-green play was typically strong.

“I don’t think I hit it that bad,” Korda said. “The only thing I struggled on was making those putts and getting it close.”

Frustration got the better of Korda as she bogeyed No. 9, missing a putt from 8 feet, and No. 11 and further missed chances at Nos. 12 and 13 didn’t improve her mood.

The first of her two birdies came at the par-5 14th after she reached the green in two.

“Everyone keeps talking about how I’m playing so well, but I’m going to shoot bad scores,” Korda said. “I’m human."

She only finished three strokes off the lead, though.

And at least she made it to the weekend.

Sophia Popov, last year's unlikely champion at Royal Troon when ranked No. 304, double-bogeyed the last hole after three-putting to shoot 75 for a 3-over total.

Also missing the cut, which was at 1 over, were No. 5-ranked Danielle Kang, who shot 76-75, and two British favorites in Charley Hull — despite her second-round 71 — and European Ryder Cup captain Catriona Matthew (75), the 2009 champion.

Laura Davies, who has played every Women's Open since 1980, is sticking around, though. The enduring Englishwoman, 57, shot 70 and was even par for the tournament.

European Tour

Sebastian Söderberg birdied the final hole to shoot an 8-under 64 and take a one-stroke lead after the rain-hit second round of the Czech Masters on Friday.

The Swede recorded the lowest score of the day — including an eagle on No. 12 and seven birdies — to equal the course record at the Albatross Golf Resort near Prague for a total of 10-under 134.

“I did play really well,” Söderberg said. “I didn’t really get into trouble, except on 17 and I made a good up-and-down. It was a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, a few nice putts and a very solid day. I went 4 under in three holes right after the rain delay, so it worked out pretty good for me.”

Sean Crocker of the United States and Adrian Meronk of Poland shot 67s to share second place.

Former British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who shared the overnight lead with Maverick Antcliff of Australia, was another shot back after his second straight bogey-free round (69) with three birdies.

“I definitely give my putting the biggest credit these first two days as to why we’re bogey-free and in a good position,” Stenson said. “There’s more to ask with the long game, but I still hit fairways and greens."

Stenson hopes to be included in the European Ryder Cup captain’s picks.

Antcliff (70) was among a six-way tie for fifth.

Another Ryder Cup hopeful, England's Danny Willett (77), had two double bogeys and three bogeys on the back nine and didn’t make the cut.

Play had to be suspended in the afternoon after the course was flooded by heavy rain.