Brendon Todd, a 35-year-old with three career PGA Tour wins, has never finished better than 23rd in a World Golf Championships event.
But after a first-round 64, Todd fired a 65 Friday at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and will carry a two-stroke lead at 11-under 129 over Rickie Fowler into the third round.
Todd said he is putting better this week than he has all year. The highlight Friday was a 50-footer he sank on the par-3 14th for birdie.
“Yeah, it was a little bit in between clubs there, so I shot 6-iron to the left side of the green, safe shot, and had 50 feet over the mound,” Todd said. “It was breaking left to right five or six feet. My caddie really kind of set me up with a good spot there beyond the hole to aim at and I just focused all on speed. it happened to just drift right there in the middle of the hole. Bonus birdie there, but that’s what you’ve got to do to win golf tournaments sometimes and that’s how you shoot low rounds.”
Two of Todd’s three wins came in November at the Bermuda Championship and Mayakoba Golf Classic.
“In my whole life, this is definitely the most confident I’ve ever felt with my golf game,” the former Georgia golfer said. “It’s probably the most versatile I’ve ever been ball-striking-wise. I still don’t hit it far, but I feel like I’m able to shape shots a little bit. And my short game’s solid, so it just kind of comes down to how the putting is.”
Koepka’s short-game struggles return
Brooks Koepka appeared to put his recent putting struggles behind him Thursday.
In the first round, the defending champion sailed smoothly to a career low-tying 62 and entered Friday’s second round atop the leaderboard.
He maintained some of that momentum early in the second round, getting to 10-under, but a three-putt double bogey on No. 2 sent Koepka into a mini-spiral. He needed 10 putts over a four-hole stretch, which included a bogey on the fifth. Another bogey on No. 7 left the 30-year-old at 1-over for the round.
Koepka, tied for third at 7-under, will begin Round 3 well within striking distance of Todd.
“I’ve got 36 holes to go, man, I ain’t worried,” Koepka said.
Phil Mickelson not going away
Phil Mickelson, 50, turned in a solid second-round showing.
After an opening-round 67, Mickelson shot an even-par 70 Friday, leaving him tied with five others for 15th.
“Although I’m eight back, I feel like I’m in a position that if I can get a hot round, and I’ve certainly shot some of those over the years, if I get a hot round (Saturday), I can move right up into contention for Sunday, which is what I would love, just to have a chance on Sunday,” Mickelson said.
Rory McIlroy, the No. 2 golfer in the world, let things get away from him a bit in the first round, beginning with the par-3 No. 4, when his tee shot found the water. That sparked a string of three straight bogeys and he finished at 3-over 73.
But McIlroy recovered Friday and did so around the same stretch that gave him so much trouble the day before.
Following a birdie on No. 3, McIlroy drilled a 23-foot putt on the fourth for another birdie and added one more on No. 5.
McIlroy shot a 4-under 66 for his round although he is still 10 shots off the lead. He has four straight finishes outside the top 10 after 12 out of 14 top 10 finishes.
Rounds of the day
The best second-round showings belonged to Matthew Fitzpatrick and Kevin Na, who shot 6-under 64s.
Fitzpatrick, tied for sixth at 6-under, had an eagle and five birdies. He has five European Tour wins and is seeking his first PGA Tour win.
Na, tied for 12th at 4-under, had six birdies, including five on the back nine after starting on No. 10.
The four-time PGA Tour winner tied for 43rd at last year’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.