Harold Varner III opened with a triple bogey and closed with a flurry of five birdies over his last six holes to claim sole possession of the lead at the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday.
Playing the back nine first at the spectatorless Colonial Country Club, Varner got his day off to a horrific start with a triple at the par-four 10th but hit back with birdies at 12, 13 and 16 to return to level par.
He wobbled into the turn with a bogey at 18 but then jumped to the top of the leaderboard behind a run of four straight birdies from the fourth and another at his last for a four-under 66 and get to 11-under for the tournament.
“I’m still hitting it really well and putting it really well and those things go hand in hand,” said the 29-year-old American, who is looking to claim his first PGA Tour victory.
“Obviously not the start I wanted, but it’s just a part of golf.”
Lurking one shot back is local favorite Jordan Spieth, who had his own troubles mid-round before recovering for a five-under 65.
Also playing the back nine first, Spieth, who began the day two shots off the lead, rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with six birdies through his opening 11 holes but then crashed out of top spot with a four-putt double bogey at the third followed by a bogey at the fourth.
Spieth, a three-time major champion, recovered with birdies at five and six to limit the damage and keep alive hopes of ending a three-year winless drought.
Powerhouse Bryson DeChambeau, who added muscle during the tour’s three-month hiatus due to the novel coronavirus, is also one stroke off the lead after carding his second straight 65 on a hot afternoon in North Texas.
World number one Rory McIlroy staged a second-round charge, flirting with the course record before taking a bogey at his last for a seven-under 63 to sit two off the pace.
Until the final hole the Northern Irishman had been working on an error free round highlighted by a 23-foot putt for eagle at the par five first.
Birdies at two, six and seven put McIlroy at eight-under and one off the tournament record with two to play but his chances of 61 ended with a bogey as he joined Xander Schauffele (66) and Collin Morikawa (67) at nine-under.
Former world number one Dustin Johnson and veteran Phil Mickelson, who turns 50 on Tuesday, were among those who missed the cut, but the star-studded leaderboard is all the PGA Tour could ask for going into the weekend of its first event since mid-March.
Just as they did in Thursday’s opening round, the horn sounded at 8:46 a.m. (1346 GMT), bringing play to halt as golfers observed a moment to honor George Floyd, the black man who died last month after a white police officer knelt on his neck, sparking widespread protests.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds is the length of time that Floyd was filmed pinned under the officer’s knee.
Varner, who is among only a handful of black players on the tour and an advocate for greater racial diversity in the pro game, has been in the spotlight because of recent events but said for this week he is simply focused on his game.
“It’s pretty cool that the tour is doing that (moment of silence), but when you’re out there you’re just so in the moment,” Varner told reporters.
“Well, I was anyway. I don’t know, man, I was just trying to make a birdie.”