Last time here, Taylor Pendrith pitched in Taylor; now, he's leading the Rocket

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — He grew up only about four hours away, just outside of Toronto, in Richmond Hill, Ontario, but Taylor Pendrith never came to the Detroit area as a kid. Well, at least not to play golf.

He did come here once, actually — to pitch in the Junior League World Series in Taylor, where, as he recalls, his team got smoked because the American kids were a little bit older and so much bigger and stronger.

Taylor Pendrith watches his drive off the ninth tee during the second round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic golf on Friday in Detroit.

Pendrith is getting his revenge this week at Detroit Golf Club, where for four holes in Friday's second round, he was pitching a perfect game, en route to a 7-under 65 that gave him the lead by one stroke over Tony Finau at the halfway point of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Pendrith is one of several PGA Tour rookies on the leaderboard, along with his playing partner Lee Hodges (12 under), Cameron Young (10 under) and Sahith Theegala (9 under). For the first four holes Friday, Pendrith and Hodges matched each other, birdie for birdie. Hodges shot 66.

"It was great," Pendrith said. "You kind of build off that. The starts that we had were awesome. It kind of set the tone for the round and both of us were just trying to make as many birdies as we could."

More:Rocket Mortgage Classic live leaderboard

For the record, they combined for 15 of them on an afternoon where the breeze was there, but not blowing nearly as hard as it was for the afternoon wave in Round 1.

PGA Tour vets Russell Henley and past British Open winner Stewart Cink were tied with Young at 10 under, while former Masters champion Adam Scott, world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay and Si Woo Kim were part of a six-way logjam at 9 under with Stephan Jaeger and Scott Stallings, who made six birdies in a row at one point.

Pendrith, at 15 under, set the 36-hole scoring record, which was established in the inaugural playing of the Rocket by eventual champion Nate Lashley, at 14 under. Finau matched that an hour before Pendrith finished off his round.

For Pendrith, being in Detroit is special for a couple of reasons. For starters, the proximity to his home town has him well-supported this week — he's been serenaded with, "Oh, Canada," by the galleries here — and he's just three hours from his alma mater, Kent State. Then there's the biggest reason: This is just his third tournament since The Players Championship in March. He suffered a stress fracture in a rib on his left side, and couldn't even touch a club for 12 months. The only saving grace: The layoff came during the NHL playoffs. The diehard Maple Leafs fan watched just about every game, every night.

Nate Lashley, the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic champion, lets the gallery know where his tee ball is headed Friday.

"I had been playing nicely before The Players, as well," said Pendrith, 31. "I played good at the Honda (two weeks earlier) and got some momentum, and felt like I was just getting on a run of playing really nice golf. To have to sit out for almost four months after that really sucked, but honestly, couldn't really do much about it. Just tried to stay patient and know that it's going to heal and I'll be back at some point."

Yeah, he's back, and in prime position for his first PGA Tour win. He won twice on PGA Tour Canada in 2019.

Pendrith returned at the Barbasol Championship three weeks ago and tied for 13th (same as his result at The Players), then tied for 11th at the Barracuda Championship two weeks ago. He took last week off, but remains firmly on his game in Detroit.

Same with Hodges, 27, like Pendirth, Young and Theegala, a rookie looking for that breakthrough win.

"I'm just hitting it close," Hodges said. "So just going to keep doing that."

Tony Finau walks with the gallery on the 12th fairway.

Speaking of keepin' on keepin' on, there's Finau, 32, who is right back near the top of the leaderboard, after getting his third career win last week at the 3M Open. He struggled a bit out of the gate Friday, with just one birdie in his first nine holes, but caught fire on the back with a 31.

Finau made three straight birdies at Nos. 12-14, and had nifty sand saves on both back-nine par 5s, the 14th and 17th, to get the birdie.

He followed his opening 64 with a second-round 66, a bit of an outlier on what seemed like Kids Day at DGC.

He's missed just two greens in regulation through two rounds, and hasn't made a bogey.

The young sure like to sleep in.

PGA golfer Keegan Bradley hits out of a sand trap on the 3rd green during the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Friday, July 29, 2022.

But Cameron Young, well, he had no problem as an early riser Friday, rising to the top of the leaderboard as part of the early morning wave for Round 2 of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.

"Anytime you win, you breed confidence," Finau said. "I was just happy to carry that confidence from last week right into this week."

There's no lacking confidence on this leaderboard, no matter how many guys are still without a PGA Tour win. That includes Young, 25, the leading candidate for PGA Tour rookie of the year who shot a tournament-record-tying 9-under 63 that included a hole-out for eagle at the par-4 13th, seven birdies and no bogeys.

Who said the young aren't early risers? Young is. Out just after 7 a.m. Friday, he took full advantage of the benign weather. He started at the back nine and made birdie at No. 12, then found the fairway at the par-4 13th, with 136 yards to the flag. He was trying to hit it 140 and just left of the flag, but he hit his pitching wedge short and right, and it flew right in the hole for the eagle.

That was the highlight of a five-hole stretch in which Young was 5 under.

Cameron Young finishes putting on the fourth green.

"I'm not afraid of being near the lead," said Young, who was runner-up at The Open Championship and has three other second-place finishes and two thirds this season. "At this point, I've been around a little bit and any shot advantage I can have over the weekend is something I'll take."

He was 1 under all day Thursday, playing in the heavy winds. He didn't blame the round on that, though. He said he just found some tricky spots around the green.

"That's kind of a place," said Young, "where the stats don't really tell the whole story."

For instance, the metrics Friday said Young was among the leaders in the field at strokes gained off the tee. Of course, the stats didn't draw the picture from the par-4 second, where he hooked his tee shot so far left, it hit by the caddy barn near the parking lot and rolled another 80 yards on the cart path. The drive, officially, went into the books at 402 yards. He got a drop into the rough, chipped into the rough, chipped again to just under 7 feet and made that for par. He credited that save with keeping the momentum going.

Young then went birdie-birdie-birdie on the next three holes.

Then, on the par-5 seventh, he hooked his tee shot left again, but caught another break, hitting a tree and kicking into the fairway. That led to another birdie.

Jason Day lines his putt on the the 11th green.

At the par-3 ninth, he made another 7-footer tester for par to tie the tournament record of 63, joining Nate Lashley and J.T. Poston (2019), and Davis Thompson (2021).

Theegala, 24, competing with Young for rookie-of-the-year honors as well as a spot on the Presidents Cup team and also looking for his first PGA Tour win, will enter the weekend right before Young. He shot one of the best rounds Thursday afternoon in the wind, and followed it up nicely with the 67 Friday.

"Yesterday, it was blowing," said Theegala, a whose family is from India, and who had a solid contingent of family friends from Dearborn and Canton following him Friday. " It was really tricky. And I scored incredible (Thursday), and honestly played way better yesterday than I did today, but conditions are just perfect. I was first off, greens are as pure as they can possibly be. And there was really no wind until my back nine there."

While Young and Theegala are chasing that first win — a good betting prop would be who wins first, Young, Theegala or Will Zalatoris — Scott has won 31 times around the world, including 14 times on the PGA Tour. Among those wins was a Masters title. He last won in 2020, his only win since 2016.

Scott shot a bogey-free round that included three straight birdies from Nos. 12-14.

Scott has three top-10s this season, and will make the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Adam Scott watches the action from the third green.

"I don't think I've played badly at all, to be honest," Scott said after his Friday round. "I generally play consistently OK, but that kind of sucks on the Tour."

Among notables who missed the cut, which came at 3 under (same as last year, after it was 5 under the first two years), were unofficial tournament host Rickie Fowler (3 over), Harris English (2 under), Gary Woodland (2 under), Sepp Straka (2 under), Kevin Kisner (1 under), Davis Riley (even), Maverick McNealy (even), Denny McCarthy (even), Luke List (2 over) and Harry Higgs (3 over).

Most of the big names in the field will be around on the weekend, including Zach Johnson (8 under), Jason Day (5 under), Webb Simpson (5 under), Max Homa (4 under), Will Zalatoris (3 under), Keegan Bradley (3 under), and past Rocket Mortgage Classic champions Cam Davis and Nate Lashley (3 under).

Ryan Brehm (Traverse City/Michigan State) will play the weekend, at 5 under.

They're all staring up a ways at Pendrith, a little-known Canadian who has long looked forward to playing this tournament in Detroit. It's going a lot better than his last tournament in Detroit.

"We might have won a few games," said Pendrith, who pitched for the Richmond Hill Phoenix.

"But we did get smoked a couple times."

This week, he's doing the smoking.

And the one-time pitcher, who had a good heater if he says so himself (he does), is looking to be the closer.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984