Friday's golf: Martin Trainer from out of nowhere leading Houston Open
Martin Trainer was in rare territory Friday. Not only did he play well enough to stick around for the weekend, he found himself leading the Houston Open.
Trainer holed a pair of long birdie putts and three short ones in a bogey-free round at Memorial Park for a 5-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Kevin Tway.
The second round would not be completed until Saturday morning as the tournament tried to catch up from a long weather delay at the start of the tournament.
While the cut would not be made until then, it was virtually certain four-time major champion Brooks Koepka who would miss for the second straight week.
That's a part of golf Trainer knows all too well.
He won the Puerto Rico Open in 2019 as a rookie, and then it was all downhill after that. Trainer has made only nine cuts in 70 starts on the PGA Tour since then, and one of those was the winners-only Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua that had no cut.
He had missed seven in a row dating to the 3M in July.
And then the 30-year-old Trainer showed up at Houston and made the game look simpler than it has for the last two years.
“Last week I hit the ball really well for the first time in a long time and I just didn't putt very well,” Trainer said. "So I figured if I could somehow do both those at the same time — to be fair, every single player says that every single week. But for me, it had been such a long time coming. It really was a grind for a long time.
“So now to finally be able to put it together ... you have to hope that this is the week.”
No need telling that to Tway, who won the Safeway Open to start the 2018 season and has only one other top 10 over his next 72 events on the PGA Tour.
Tway had a pair of eagles in his round of 64, holing a 60-foot chip on the par-5 third hole and then holing out from 107 yards in the fairway on the par-4 13th. He was tied for the lead until missing a 5-foot par putt on the 17th hole.
Jason Kokrak was 8 under with seven holes left.
Adam Long was another stroke back after a 67.
The low round of the day belonged to Scottie Scheffler, who had a 62 and was in the group four shots behind that included fellow Texas Longhorn Kramer Hickok.
To see Trainer's name atop the leaderboard was a surprise considering how many cuts he has missed and how discouraging it can get.
Sure, there were times he pondered his future in the game. His exemption from winning in Puerto Rico runs out after this season. But he always had hope, and he knew that while it's hard to win on the PGA Tour, he had done it before.
“It is demoralizing when you keep missing cuts over and over again,” Trainer said. "It's been tough at times for me the last couple years not playing well, but now that I figured out a little bit of ball-striking, dropped some putts, it really can turn around that quickly.
“So I’m just grateful that that’s happening to me this week and hopefully I’ll keep it going.”
Lexi Thompson birdied four of her last five holes Friday for a 6-under 64 to share the lead with Jennifer Kupcho going into the weekend of the Pelican Women's Championship.
One big prize was awarded when Pavarisa Yoktuan made a hole-in-one with an 8-iron on the 145-yard 12th hole and won a two-year lease for a Lamborghini.
Christina Kim felt like a winner, too, even though her work is not done. Kim missed out on Monday qualifying, received a late sponsor exemption and responded with rounds of 65-66 to sit just two shots off the lead.
That's a big deal for Kim because she is No. 98 in the Race to the CME Globe, and only the top 100 keep full cards for next year after this event. She would have to win — something Kim hasn't done in seven years — to move into the top 60 and advance to the CME Group Tour Championship next week.
For now, she was floating on air, no small task for a 37-year-old who referred to herself as an “Old Betty” who can “occasionally just whack it around and find the bottom of the cup every now and again.”
“Turns out I’m a bit of a control freak. So not being in control of my own destiny, not a big fan of that,” Kim said. “So once I knew I could control my own destiny I was able to just focus on getting the job done.”
Nothing is settled just yet for Kim or anyone else.
Kupcho, who has been a runner-up in each of the last three years on the LPGA Tour while still trying to capture her first title, ran off four birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn for a 64 that set the target at 11-under 129.
“I don't know if I necessarily have it figured out,” said Kupcho, who had 12 birdies over her last 28 holes. “I'm just hitting really good iron shots and getting myself in good position on the greens.”
Thompson played in the afternoon and finished strong, her only blemish down the stretch a bogey on the par-4 eighth hole. She has not won since the ShopRite LPGA Classic more than two years ago and has slipped to No. 13 in the women's world ranking.
Nine players were separated by two shots at the halfway point at Pelican Golf Club.
Leona Maguire of Ireland cooled slightly from her opening 62 and had a 68 to join Wie-Ling Hsu (64). The group another shot back included Mi Yang Lee (62), Matilda Castren (64), world No. 1 Nelly Korda (66) and defending champion Sei Young Kim (67).
“I think it’s going to be probably a shootout at the weekend,” Maguire said. “If that’s kind of the case, just trying to make as many birdies as you can and keep your foot down, see where it stands at the end of the weekend.”
Jin Young Ko, who has won four of her last seven starts on the LPGA, had a 66 to get back into the picture. The South Korean start was five shots behind.
Emma Talley overcame a bogey-bogey start for another 70 to make the cut on the number, important for her because she is No. 60 in the Race to the CME Globe. The top 60 get into the season finale next week, where everyone starts from scratch with $1.5 million at stake.
As for Yoktuan, that hole-in-one left her six shots behind and still a long shot to keep a full card next year because the Thai is at No. 158 in the standings. She also has a decision to make on whether there is any type of cash-in award on the Lamborghini.
That's not to suggest she's opposed to powerful car. She was driving a BMW until she crashed that recently. Her new mode of transportation? “A motorcycle,” she said.
PGA Tour Champions
Kirk Triplett shot a 7-under 64 to move into the lead Friday and Jim Furyk remained in contention for the season title with a 67 in the second round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Playing in the final group with Phil Mickelson, Triplett shut out the noise from the largest, most boisterous gallery at Phoenix Country Club, finishing with seven birdies and no bogeys. He was at 13 under, two ahead of recent qualifier Steven Alker, who shot a 65.
Furyk, who can win the season-long Schwab Cup points race with a victory this weekend, is tied with Mickelson at 10 under after reeling off six birdies. Mickelson finished off a 67 with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th hole.
Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer struggled with a balky back for the second straight day, hitting into three penalty areas for a 72. He was 11 shots back at 2 under, but still can win his sixth series title.
Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els were well back in their bids to win the Schwab Cup Championship and the series title. Jimenez is at 6 under after a 66 and Els shot 73 to finish at 1 under.
Langer battled through intense back pain and needed caddie Terry Holt to retrieve his ball from the hole during an opening-round 68, three off the lead. The 64-year-old German was moving a little better in the second round, though still a little stiff anytime he bent down.
Langer was feeling good enough that he and Els cracked a smile when Holt said “No, I'll get it” after Langer tapped in for par on No. 9. There were no smiles when Langer took consecutive double bogeys after hitting out of bounds on the par-4 14th and into the water on the par-3 15th.
Langer still has a good chance at winning the Schwab Cup for the fifth time in seven years if he can get his back healthy and play well on the weekend.
Alker has been on quite a run.
The New Zealander had no status when he turned 50 in July before qualifying for the Boeing Classic in August. He had top-10 finishes every week to keep playing and become eligible for the postseason, which included a win last weekend at the TimberTech Championship in Florida.
Antoine Rozner took a one-stroke lead after two rounds of his title defense at the Dubai Championship, rolling in a right-to-left birdie putt from eight feet at No. 18 to shoot 8-under 64 on Friday.
Holing a sixth birdie in his final eight holes allowed the French golfer to break away from a three-way tie for the lead with Francesco Laporta (64) and first-round leader JB Hansen (67).
Rozner, who is 15 under par overall, has yet to drop a shot this week on the Fire Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates where he shot 25 under last year to claim his first European Tour title.
“I just kept putting myself in position, hole after hole,” said Rozner, who described his long game as “absolutely perfect. And a few putts dropped in the back nine.
“It was definitely one of my best ball-striking rounds around here.”
On another day of low scoring in ideal conditions in Dubai, Kalle Samooja made seven birdies in his last eight holes — after starting at No. 10 — to shoot 64 and move into fourth place on 13 under.
The English pair of Tommy Fleetwood (a second straight 66) and Paul Waring (67) were a stroke further back.