Friday's golf: Mitchell keeps foot down and builds 5-shot lead in CJ Cup

Associated Press

Las Vegas — Rory McIlroy was trying to illustrate how deep the talent pool is on the PGA Tour by sharing a story about how impressed he was with Keith Mitchell the first time they played together.

Mitchell is providing McIlroy and everyone else with plenty of more fodder through two rounds of the CJ Cup at Summit.

One day after matching his career low with a 62, Mitchell followed that with an 8-under 64 on Friday to build a five-shot shot lead going into the weekend at The Summit Club.

Keith Mitchell prepares to putt on the eighth hole during the second round of the CJ Cup golf tournament at the Summit Club in Las Vegas, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.

Jordan Spieth had eight birdies and an eagle to counter a few soft bogeys for a 65 and was tied for second along with Harry Higgs (67) and Seonghyeon Kim (63), one of eight South Korean players who will be in the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying next week.

Joining them was Adam Scott, who had two eagles on his last five holes and played his last seven holes in 8 under for a 63.

Mitchell was at 18-under 126, breaking by five shots his best 36-hole score on tour.

“I spent a lot of time in the last few days leading up to this tournament working hard on my game and it's showing,” said Mitchell, whose lone victory was in the Honda Classic two years ago. “I'm very thankful for that. Just shows you that hard work pays off as long as you're doing the right things.”

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Not much has gone wrong for Mitchell.

He was between clubs on No. 10 and had to scramble for par. That indecision carried over to the tee on the par-3 11th where his worst swing of the day led to his lone bogey. He answered with three birdies the rest of the way to widen his lead.

“If I'm sitting here saying I'm 18 under with only two bad swings, I'm going to take it every time,” Mitchell said.

Scores were even lower than the opening round, at least for most players in the 78-man field. That wasn't the case for Robert Streb, who opened with a 61 and was six shots behind when he started his round. Streb was 11 shots worse with a 72.

Abraham Ancer made an albatross by holing out from the fairway on the par-5 14th with a shot that rolled onto the green and broke some 30 feet to the left and right into the cup.

Dustin Johnson nearly had one on the par-5 third. His second shot banged into the middle of the spin and settled a few inches away. The world's No. 2 player started with a 74, shot a 66 and actually lost ground. He was 14 shots behind.

Spieth hit a 3-wood so pure that he told his caddie as the ball was in flight that it was a shot he couldn't have hit last year when he was struggling with his game. That led to an eagle on the par-5 sixth, and while he's still five back, he is in range.

“Everybody would have signed for 18 through two rounds,” Spieth said. “I think the hardest part is regrouping and almost feeling like you start fresh to put your foot on the gas pedal versus tapping the brakes.”

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Spieth would rather be five shots ahead, though he doesn't mind a five-shot in one respect.

“That will help me keep the foot on the gas pedal,” Spieth said.

That's the only way to fly around The Summit, which doesn't provide too much stress as long as shots are kept in the grass instead of the desert.

McIlroy brought up Mitchell at the start of the week when the topic turned to how hard it is to win on the PGA Tour. He thought back to the Wells Fargo Championship in May, when he played the final round with Mitchell, trailing by two shots.

“He came out and he hits it in the left bunker on 1, hits an unbelievable 7-iron to like 10 feet and holes he putt,” McIlroy said. "People wouldn't maybe pick a Keith Mitchell to win a tournament at the start of the week, but you play with him in a final round on a Sunday, he stopped me in my tracks. I was like, ‘He is a hell of a player.’

“People don't realize ... I mean, you could say that about 100 guys out there,” McIlroy said. “That's the thing. You turn up to a PGA Tour event, you feel like three-quarters of the field have a chance to win.”

The best chance belongs to Mitchell, who knows a thing or two about depth on the tour. Anyone can low at any minute, especially in conditions like this.

Ian Poulter played with Mitchell and had rounds of 66-67. He was seven behind.

“We're trying to birdie every hole on the golf course and you can’t be any more aggressive than that,” Poulter said. “It’s just the first two rounds that Keith has played is pretty impressive. Eighteen under for two days is some good golf.”

European Tour

Sotogrande, Spain — Jon Rahm’s woes back in Spain worsened when he failed to make the cut at the Andalucía Masters on Friday.

The top-ranked Rahm shot 3-over 74 through the second round, finishing with a share of 99th place and 14 strokes off the lead of Romain Langasque.

That was actually an improvement on his first round. On Thursday, Rahm matched his worst round as a professional with a 7-over 78, leaving him 11 shots behind overnight leader Julien Guerrier.

“This is the first time in my life that I don’t want to see a golf club,” Rahm said. “And this comes from someone who loves this sport, and after a year in which some pretty good things have happened to me.”

Rahm said he needs to take a break and may not play for one month until the World Tour Championship in Dubai.

“More than my body, it is my mind that can’t take it. I am going to hang up my clubs for four weeks,” Rahm said. “I haven’t stopped since the stoppage because of COVID. ... If we add it all up, I need to rest.”

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Rahm has struggled in his first tournaments after two years in his home country. Last week at the Spanish Open in Madrid, he was flustered by the crowds who turned out to see him but forgot to silence their cell phones. Rahm opened the tournament with a 63 but had lackluster rounds the rest of the way and was not in contention to defend his title.

But at least he played on the weekend.

It only got worse for the U.S. Open winner at Real Club Valderrama in southern Andalucía. On Friday, he carded a double bogey, three bogeys and one birdie on the front nine. He improved on a bogey-free back nine but managed only one birdie, leaving him with a share of 99th place at 10 over after two rounds.

Langasque carded a 2-under 69 for the second straight day to take a one-shot lead over four chasers.

“I played really solid again today, like yesterday,” Langasque said. “My long game is very good, my driving is really good. I drove a good one on 17, hit a good second shot just over the green and made a long putt for the eagle. That was the bonus for the day."

Ryan Fox, Matt Fitzpatrick, Laurie Canter and Sebastian Soderberg had a share of second. Guerrier slipped to joint sixth at two shots back. Rafa Cabrera Bello, who won last week in Madrid, was on par in 13th.

PGA Tour Champions

Charlotte — Scott Parel shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' SAS Championship.

The 56-year-old Parel birdied Nos. 5-7 and added four more on the back nine on Nos. 10, 12, 13 and 16 at Prestonwood Country Club. He won the last of his three senior titles in February 2020.

“I putted really well today,” Parel said. “I hit the ball good. I’ve been trending in the right direction as far as that’s concerned. I worked on my alignment a little bit this week and putted great. The greens are absolutely fantastic, probably the best ones we play all year, Bermuda like I grew up on.”

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Monday qualifier Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and Robert Karlsson of Sweden were a stroke back. Jaidee birdied his final four holes.

“I played great today,” Jaidee said. “I missed only one fairway today. I tried to get my focus to be better this week. I mean like come to qualify, get in this week. The thing is my game is getting better. I picked up the putting a little bit today. I hit a lot of good shots, hit a lot of greens, hit a lot of fairways to give me a chance to hit on the greens.”

Lee Janzen and Miguel Angel Jimenez were tied for fourth at 67. John Daly was at 68 with 67-year-old Jay Haas, Retief Goosen, David Toms, Tim Petrovic, Scott Dunlap, Stuart Appleby, Alex Cejka, Jeff Sluman, Harrison Frazar, Paul Broadhurst and Brett Quigley.

Jim Furyk shot 69, and defending champion Ernie Els opened with a 71. Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer had a 70. He's a two-time winner at Prestonwood.