Kuchar stays top at Riviera

Dave Tindall
Rotoworld

Recap of the day

Three clear after an opening 64, Matt Kuchar had to play a waiting game on day two at Riviera. And while he readied for his 12.13 tee-time (fourth last group out from the 1st), the field started to reel him in.

Sung Kang briefly went T1 with Kuchar before finishing at -6 and he was joined there by Adam Scott, who flew home in 31. Harold Varner III did eventually post 7-under for the new clubhouse lead.

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When he finally did get going, Kuchar made a hash of the easy par-5 opener, taking six swings, but he steadied the ship and birdies at 10 and 11 took him two clear at -9 and there he stayed.

Fellow afternoon starters Rory McIlroy (67) and Wyndham Clark (68) joined Varner III on 7-under to make it a three-way tie for second place.  

Leaderboard: -9 Matt Kuchar, -7 Harold Varner III, Rory McIlroy, Wyndham Clark, -6 Sung Kang, Adam Scott, Vaughn Taylor, Russell Henley.

Notables: -5 Jon Rahm, -4 J.B. Holmes (DC), Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Bryson DeChambeau, -2 Patrick Cantlay, Sergio Garcia, -1 Patrick Reed, Evs Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, +1 Tony Finau, Hideki Matsuyama.

Low round of the day: 64 Adam Scott

Cut: A total of 67 players made it through on 1-over 143 or better.

Missed cut: +2 Bubba Watson, Jason Day, +3 Justin Thomas, +4 Phil Mickelson.

 

Revised outright betting

9/4 McIlroy, 9/2 Kuchar, 10/1 Scott, 14/1 DJ, Rahm, 20/1 Varner III, Clark, 30/1 Rose, 33/1 DeChambeau, 35/1 Kang, 40/1 Casey, Henley, Taylor.

 

Saturday weather forecast

Tee-times are earlier Saturday, with the final 3-ball of Kuchar, Varner III and McIlroy pegging it up at 10am local. Players go off from both 1 and 10 again and the first to hit do so at 8.05am. Some morning fog will have cleared by then but it'll take a couple of hours to warm up and reach the 60s. It's another sunny day (temps maxing out at 68 degrees around midday/1pm) although the wind could get up a little towards 10mph in the early afternoon. 

 

Leaders at 36 holes

Matt Kuchar (69, 133) - Just didn't have his best stuff (minus figures for SG: Tee To Green) today so some veteran smarts came into play for Kooch to break 70. Ranks 1st for SG: Putting so far this week and 5th in Scrambling.

Harold Varner III (68, 135) - Gained an impressive 4.488 strokes Tee To Green (3rd overall) in a round featuring five birdies against two bogeys. Ranks outside the top 25 for SG: Putting and Around The Green so may need to sharpen up the short game to maintain his challenge.

Rory McIlroy (67, 135) - The new World No. 1 is lurking dangerously. No eagles today (he had two in R1) but six birdies. Not higher than 10th in any of the main SG categories so still room for improvement. 

Wyndham Clark (68, 135) - Ranks T3 for birdies (11 of them) so he's taking his chances but only 40th in SG: Approach. Found 11 GIR for the second day running and has hit only 14 of 28 fairways to this point.

 

Fate of the favorites

Rory McIlroy cuts an ominous figure in tied second after moving up five spots today while Jon Rahm advanced 22 places to T11 with a 68 despite recording minus figures for SG: Approach for the second straight day. But the biggest move was made by Dustin Johnson (up 54 to T11), who fired two eagles in a 66. DJ gained 4.727 strokes Tee To Green although he's only ranked 46th for SG: Putting. Justin Thomas missed the cut by two after needing 15 holes to find his first birdie of the day in a 71. A cold putter was largely to blame for is early exit.

 

Quotes

Matt Kuchar (69): "It definitely wasn't my best stuff today. Certainly glad to be in the clubhouse at two under, nine under total. Wasn't driving it nearly as accurate as I did the first day and I had to play very defensive. However, did some good scoring. When I had opportunities, I seemed to take advantage. Two under was an awfully good score for the way I drove it today. I better find more control. Bottom line is being in control of what you're doing and I could use a little more control over the weekend."

Rory McIlroy (68): "I'm managing my game well. You know, I've hit a couple loose shots here and there, but I'm thinking my way around the golf course and, you know, that's what this place is all about. I mean, you can hit a few squirrelly shots and get away with it as long as you miss it in the right places, and for the first couple days I've done that. I'm feeling pretty good about my game. I've hit some nice short irons, I've held on pretty well for the most part, my chipping and short game's been good, so those are all things I'll need over the weekend."

Harold Varner III (68): "I played really well, I just played super solid. Got a lot of looks and just about the same as yesterday."

Sung Kang (67): "Solid. I struggled a little bit off the tee and then I've been really struggling with my putting probably last four, five weeks and then last week we kind of, we changed a lot, I mean, really changed totally and feeling comfortable now and making some putts and it helps a lot."

Adam Scott (64): "I really just like a lot of the holes out here. You know, I stand on the tee very comfortable here, and shots into the green. Somehow I manage to putt generally well here when it's one of the courses that guys struggle most on tour with. Something about it reminds me a lot of some golf in Australia, too, in areas. Just feel very comfortable every time I'm here."

 

Road to victory at Riviera

2019 J.B. Holmes – R1: 1st, R2: 3rd, R3: 2nd
2018 Bubba Watson – R1: 6th, R2: 6th, R3: 1st
2017 Dustin Johnson – R1: 2nd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Bubba Watson – R1: 2nd, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st
2015 James Hahn – R1: 1st, R2: 11th, R3: 7th

Notes: As noted yesterday, most winners here are usually up with the pace early and stay there. Dating back to 2004, 11 of the 16 winners were in the top three at halfway while two more were in the top six. The exception to the rule was Bubba in the first of his wins when he was T40 at the midpoint (eight back) before closing with a pair of 64s.

 

Fate of the 36-hole leaders at Riviera – where did they finish?

2019 Justin Thomas 2nd, Adam Scott 7th
2018 Patrick Cantlay 4th, Graeme McDowell 26th
2017 Dustin Johnson 1st
2016 Jason Kokrak 2nd
2015 Retief Goosen 8th

Notes: DJ in 2017 was the last 36-hole leader to convert while two others in the last five years have finished runner-up. Overall, topping the halfway standings usually ensures a good finish but not often a win. Before DJ, Phil Mickelson in 2008 was the last to lead after both 36 and 72.

 

Focus on - Matt Kuchar with a halfway lead

Kuchar has become far more ruthless from this sort of position in recent years. The first ten times he entered the weekend with a piece of the lead, Kuchar emerged with the silverware just once (although that was a biggie, the 2012 PLAYERS). But looking at his last five halfway worldwide leads, he's converted three of them: the European Tour's Fiji International in 2015, the Mayakoba Golf Classic in 2018 and the 2019 Sony Open.

 

Focus on - Adam Scott

After eight weeks off, the Aussie could have been forgiven for showing some rust but that's balanced out by Riviera being one his favorite courses on the planet. He took a little while to get going in round one but a 64 today has put him right in the mix heading into the weekend. Two years ago he arrived here as the World No. 56 and by the big summer events that season (Open and WGC-Bridgestone), Scott was down at 76th in the OWGR. Had we seen the best of him? With two young kids (aged 1 and 3 at the time), had Scott's priorities changed? A third place at the 2018 PGA Championship helped him start to turn a corner and he entered this year's Genesis as the World No. 14 after a string of quality performances. He gave a clue as to what had caused the turnaround in today's press conference: "I feel I've really elevated, for me, my levels of chipping and putting. Certainly short game over the last 18 months is way up there now, so that feels much, much better." Scott was 5-for-5 in Scrambling in round two and he ranks 4th for SG: Around The Green so far this week. That short-game sharpness bodes well for the weekend, and for Augusta too for which he's a 40/1 chance to win a second green jacket.

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