There is an interesting juxtaposition at the top of the leaderboard at the Quicken Loans National.
Tied for first place is Jon Rahm, the exciting young Spaniard playing in his first PGA Tour event, as a professional. So far, he has led after each of his rounds. He followed up an impressive 64 in round one with a 4-under 67 in round two.
From his standing as the #1 amateur in the world last week, and the only amateur to make the cut at the U.S. Open, to leading the first two rounds at Congressional as a professional, the two-time Ben Hogan Award winner seems incapable of losing.
In third place is three-time major champion Vijay Singh who, at 53 years old, is attempting to dispel the myth that golf has become a young man’s game. Just four strokes back at -8 after posting 68-66 in his first two rounds, Singh would become the oldest ever to win a PGA Tour event if he finds a way to come out victorious. Currently, the legendary Sam Snead’s triumph at the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open (52 years 10 months) holds the top spot on that list.
And despite a career that has been forgettable, Billy Hurley III can not be forgotten as a six-under 65 has him tied with Rahm for the lead. The 34-year-old Hurley III, ranked 607th in the world, has never won on tour, and is in the midst of a season where he has only made five cuts in 11 events, does not have a finish better than T41, and is currently 198th in the FedEx Cup Standings. His career has largely been defined by his struggle to keep status on tour.
Rahm and Hurley III will comprise the final Saturday pairing, the third round in a row that the two have played in the same group. Sam Saunders, the man who played with them in the first two rounds is currently T11 at -5.
Despite being tied for the lead, three clear of the rest of the field, Rahm and Hurley III play much different games. Rahm is a bomber off the tees; his 310.8 yard average ranks 6th in the field, a good formula for success at Congressional, a notoriously long course. Conversely, Hurley III is one of the shortest hitters on tour. He currently ranks 192nd on tour in driving distance at just 272.1 yards. His short game has been impervious to error, and as a result, he set a tournament record (for QLN at Congressional) with 14 birdies in his first two rounds.
The pairing that drew the most excitement, by far, going into the tournament was the young, exciting #sb2k16 reunion group of Smylie Kaufman, Justin Thomas, and Rickie Fowler, but instead it has been the surprising Rahm-Saunders-Hurley III pairing that has been grabbing the headlines.
Not that the #sb2k16 pairing isn’t playing great also. Kaufman (-2), Thomas (-4), and Fowler (-6), all made the cut, and Fowler is currently inside the top 10. Fowler’s results especially have been promising, as the world’s #6 ranked golfer is coming off three consecutive missed cuts.
“I mean, it has been really close,” said Fowler. “The difference between making cuts and being in contention to just missing and packing your bags… it’s a fine line so you just have to be patient. It’s easy to go out, get off to a bad start, and then start pushing and you end up packing your bags early. I was able to get some good work in with Butch [Harmon] Sunday, I came over here refreshed and ready to get at it. So I am definitely excited to get to play the weekend. I’m pleased with where my game is at and where it’s going and we’re in a good position going into the rest of the summer.”
Singh, who has not won on Tour since 2008, credited improved putting for his positive results.
“It [my putting] was good for a change. I have been putting actually quite well the past 6-8 months but nothing has been really going in. Today I made some. It’s about picking the right line and hitting a putt. I saw some good lines today.” said Singh.
The stats corroborate Vijay’s claim of improved putting. Through two rounds, he is second in the field in strokes gained: putting. At 2-over through four holes, Singh got off to a rough start, but was able to turn things around. On the back nine, Singh even birdied four consecutive holes. He was up to -9 for the tournament at one point, but a bogey on 18, one that Singh referred to as a “good bogey” after he had to hit his third shot while standing in the water, dropped him to -8, where he currently stands.
Other notables near the lead include Webb Simpson, Bill Haas and Ernie Els, all currently T4 at -7. Patrick Reed is seven back at -4, and pre-tournament favorite Jim Furyk, fresh off a T2 at the U.S. Open, followed up his poor +2 (73) in round one with a 3-under 68. Furyk scrambled to make the cut, but is 10 strokes out of the lead going into the weekend.
Round 3 gets underway at 7:55am, with the intriguing lead pairing of Rahm and Hurley III teeing off at 1:55pm.