WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Kelly Kraft squandered a big-time birdie opportunity Friday, driving his tee shot into the trees on the par-5 12th hole to fall back to 10-under-par.
Though No. 12 played as the easiest hole during both rounds of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, he proved that scoring chances exist all over the Old White TPC course, especially with a hot putter.
On a day that presented soft, damp greens and little wind, Kraft was one of several players to go low Friday, and his career-low round of 7-under 63 was good enough for a two-day total of 13-under-par and sole possession of the lead heading into the weekend.
Kraft fired a 6-under-par 64 on Thursday and wasn’t done as he rolled up eight birdies against the bogey on No. 12 on Friday. He sits atop a leaderboard that has largely had its way with the Old White, producing a cut line at 3-under, the lowest in the event’s history dating back to 2010.
Friday’s round was delayed by a half-hour right out of the gate because of early-morning weather.
Going low in White Sulphur Springs is nothing new to Kraft, who finished in a tie for fifth at the 2017 Greenbrier Classic and who has yet to shoot par or worse at the Old White TPC.
“It was a good day. Obviously, anytime you can shoot a 63 it’s a solid day,” Kraft said. “I hit a lot of good shots and I played well here last year, so I had a lot of good memories. Last year I didn’t putt so well and everything today just seemed like it was going in, and yesterday too. Seemed like I had a makeable look on every hole.”
Kraft leads the field in strokes gained putting over the first two rounds and has needed just 27 and 24 putts to get around Old White TPC twice.
He is still searching for his first PGA Tour win and will sleep on a 36-hole lead for the first time in his career.
“It’s still early,” Kraft said. “It’s a good feeling. I’ve got a lot of confidence going into the weekend, but I’ve just got to keep the pedal down out here. The greens are soft and the course is gettable.”
Behind Kraft is a two-way tie for second between Anirban Lahiri and Webb Simpson, both one shot back at 12-under. Lahiri shot Friday’s low round with a 9-under 61, matching Simpson’s low-round during Thursday’s first round.
Lahiri, a native of Pune, India, hit all 18 greens in regulation and needed just 27 putts to navigate a bogey-free round Friday.
“I’ve been feeling good over the last two weeks,” Lahiri said. “I’ve seen the improvement on the golf course and I’ve tried to plug the gaps that I’ve found over the last two weeks, and I’m happy more than anything else that I haven’t dropped a shot. But I’m not thinking about that. The focus is just to put myself in the best position that I can, and that’s a big positive for me.”
Simpson, who like Lahiri started on the back nine holes, birdied the 10th hole (his first) right out of the gate before a double-bogey on the 12th and another bogey at 13 killed the early momentum. He responded well on the front nine, coming in with a 4-under 30 on that side.
“I hung in there,” Simpson said. “I weathered that storm and made some birdies there on the front to keep it under par and give myself a chance for the weekend.
“I told myself, ‘Just stay patient, can’t really change what I did on 12 and 13, and the only thing I can do now is focus on my tee shot on 14.’ So, I started to hit some better shots, better tee shots, and I feel like the type of player I am, two years ago after that start I would have had a hard time kind of bringing back the good shots.”
Behind that trio sits Jason Kokrak at 11-under in sole possession of fourth. Kokrak and Kraft are the only two players in the field to shoot 65 or better in both rounds and his 6-under 64 on Friday has him in prime position.
“It’s just a culmination of everything I’ve been working on,” Kokrak said. “Just being more comfortable over the golf ball and trusting what I’m doing.”
Whee Kim followed up a 62 with a 2-under 68 to head into Saturday at 10-under, tied with Harold Varner III for fifth after Varner posted a 64. Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, is alone in seventh at 9-under. Eight players are tied at 8-under, most notably defending-champion Xander Schauffele, who matched Thursday’s 6-under 66 with another on Friday.
Other noteworthy players include Brandt Snedeker at 7-under, Tony Finau, Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson at 6-under and Phil Mickelson at 5-under.
A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier
Golf Channel, 1 to 2:45 p.m.
WOWK-13 (CBS), 3 to 6 p.m.
PGA Tour Radio on Sirius XM, 1 to 6 p.m.
Schedule of events
8 a.m., Gates open
All day, Tournament round three