LOS ANGELES – American Matt Kuchar used a hot start to shoot his second-straight 63 and grab the halfway stage lead on Friday at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open by one stroke over Andrew Putnam.
Kuchar made birdie on his first three holes, and then closed with his sixth birdie of the day to move to 14-under 126 at the Waialae Country Club course.
The 40-year-old is aiming for his second win in three starts on the Tour after claiming the Mayakoba Golf Classic earlier this season.
Winning the Mayakoba ended a long winless drought that stretched back to 2014.
“Just two great days. To shoot seven-under back-to-back is unexpected, but certainly awfully exciting,” said Kuchar, who finished his front nine by making an eagle on the par-five hole.
Kuchar is one shot clear of Putnam, who fired a five-under 65 and four strokes ahead of Stewart Cink and Chez Reavie, who shot 62 and 65 respectively in the Tour’s first full-field event of 2019.
Kuchar has been one of the most consistent players on the Tour over the past few years, finishing in the top 20 in FedEx Cup standings in 2017, 2016 and 2015. Last season, he slipped to 76th, his worst result since being 116th in 2008.
He said getting an early win in the new season gives him added confidence.
“Last year I probably ground harder than I’ve done in the past,” he said. “I was on the outside of a couple of things, and felt like I hadn’t been used to being in that situation.
“So now being in good shape, it’s certainly a nice place to be.”
Kuchar has won just twice in the dozen times he has held the 36-hole lead, but he feels with the way he is playing that he can add to his birdie count.
“I love the golf course. It’s a challenging one. If you play well, you can make birdies,” Kuchar said.
First-round leader Adam Svensson of Canada made the cut despite shooting 13 shots worse on Friday following his opening round of 61. The Tour rookie is tied for 20th with a five-under 135 total.
Former major championship winners Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson missed the cut by one stroke on Friday.
Spieth, who was making his 2019 debut, shot a 66 and Johnson had a 68 as they finished with a one-under 139 total.
Golf is a game of inches.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 12, 2019
Jordan Spieth will just miss the cut in his first start of 2019. pic.twitter.com/rbIQYsVeid
South African native Rory Sabbatini played his first event under the Slovakian flag, and shot a second round 67 to move to five-under overall, nine shots adrift of Kuchar.
Sabbatini, whose wife is from Slovakia, became a naturalised citizen last week, and hopes to play for that country in the 2020 Olympics in Japan.
Peter Jung, who qualified by winning an amateur tournament, played in his first PGA Tour event. The 16-year-old American placed last after shooting rounds of 84 and 78.AFP