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- Professional golfer
Overnight leader Cameron Smith remained atop the first page of the leaderboard through two rounds of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
He has plenty of company.
In ideal scoring conditions – gentle breezes, soft greens, huge fairways, and preferred lies – players took apart the Plantation Course at Kapalua and set up a weekend ripe for a stampede full of birdies and eagles to Sunday’s finish line.
Smith, who overcame a slow start for the second consecutive day – he began bogey-bogey – stormed back with an eagle and nine birdies in his last 14 holes to sign for a 9-under-par 64 Friday to reach 17 under. That tied the 36-hole tournament scoring record first set by Ernie Els in 2003.
The field averaged a shade under 68 – the lowest mark since 1999.
“A few bad shots there the first couple of holes. I didn’t really feel that comfortable on the range this morning and it kind of showed those first couple,” Smith said. “Figured it out by the fourth or fifth and was able to get on a bit of a roll with the putter as well.
“I’ve been playing golf basically my whole life, I could figure it out pretty quickly, and like I said, I figured it out within a few holes, started to feel really comfortable there, especially with the driver. Then the putter felt good the whole day.”
Cameron Smith hits his tee shot on the 11th hole during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions golf tournament at Kapalua Resort – The Plantation Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Closing with four consecutive birdies, Smith gave himself some breathing room on the stacked leaderboard. World No. 1 Jon Rahm (66-66) and Daniel Berger (66-66) are three shots back at 14 under.
“I think the wind being down obviously was a big factor,” Berger said of the scoring binge. “But it’s tough when you’re one of the last guys out and you see a bunch of low scores early. So it’s to be expected out here and you just kind of have to stay patient and know that the opportunities are going to come, and you have to take advantage when they do.”
Reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay (66-67) is at 13 under.
Hideki Matsuyama (69-65) and Sungjai Im (67-67) are at 12 under.
Kevin Na, who will defend his 2021 title next week in the Sony Open (67-68) is at 11 under. Seven players finished at 10 under, including Brooks Koepka (68-68), 2019 Sentry champion Xander Schauffele (69-67), and Sam Burns (72-64).
Seven players are 9 under, including Bryson DeChambeau (69-68).
Rahm was often heard muttering to himself about leaving many of his putts short. His pace improved on the back nine as he birdied three of his last five holes.
“It was really good tee to green. If there’s anything to put an asterisk on, it’s maybe putting,” Rahm said. “More than anything the speed, right? I feel like the greens were a little bit slower today. Me and Patrick (Cantlay) talked about it a little bit. It could have just been us, but it felt like they were a little bit slower and I just felt like I left a lot of putts out there on line that with the right speed might have had a chance of going in.
“But either way, still a solid round of golf.”
Cantlay had his woes with the putter, as well.
“I played great today and got absolutely nothing out of it,” he said. “I don’t think I made a putt outside maybe 4 or 5 feet. That just means my game’s in a good spot and I’m well-positioned for a good weekend.”
As is Matsuyama. The reigning Masters champion has had a major champion in his gallery through the first two days – 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso. Matsuyama made seven birdies and an eagle.
“I haven’t been practicing much so I didn’t really have high expectations but hopefully I can play well on the weekend. If I can hit some good drives and make some putts I think I’ll be OK.
“I don’t know if (Saso) learned much from me, but I’m definitely happy that she would want to follow me and watch me play.”
Berger was paired with Smith in the second round, which paid dividends.
Daniel Berger hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions golf tournament at Kapalua Resort – The Plantation Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
“Cameron had a tough start and then he pulled it together on the kind of the end of the back nine,” Berger said. “And it’s always easy to play with someone when they’re making a ton of birdies and you’re seeing balls go in the hole and he made every putt he looked at today.
“I think he’s going to be a tough guy to beat this weekend, but it’s not impossible.”
What is possible is one player equaling or breaking Els’ tournament mark of 31 under set in 2003. But Smith isn’t thinking about that.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can, to be honest,” he said. “I’m worried about one shot at a time. Those records are cool and stuff, but I’m just trying to do my best I can every shot.
“There’s going to be low scores. There always is around here. And I’ve just got to prepare for that the best I can and hopefully have a good weekend.”