Of the two courses the players will face this week (it’s normally three, but La Quinta got the axe this year), the Stadium Course at PGA West is by far the more difficult of the two. It’s a typical Pete Dye design, his West Coast version of TPC Sawgrass. The risks are often worth the rewards, but the slightest of mishits can often lead numbers with multple boxes around them on the scorecard.
Nobody told that to Sungjae Im on Friday, as the 22-year-old South Korean phenom picked the place apart to the tune of a seven-under 65. Most impressively, he was bogey-free, a heroic feat on a course begging for you to get in trouble. Through 36 holes, he is the solo leader at 11 under. Five players are tied for second, including Canada’s Nick Taylor, who also went bogey-free on the Stadium Course.
Here are four takeaways from Day 2 of The American Express.
Sungjae Im and bermuda greens are a match made in heaven
Apologies in advance, but we’re going to go full gambling nerd on you here. Sungjae Im + bermuda greens = profit. Seriously, if you don’t bet this man at every course where the putting surfaces are bermuda (which is a lot of courses on the PGA Tour), you simply hate money.
According to Fantasy National, which keeps track of all this great stuff, Im gains an average of 0.33 strokes putting on bermuda greens. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a ton in comparison to the 0.17 he gains on poa and the 0.003 he gains on bent. Whatever it is about this particular type of lettuce, he loves it. It turns him into a superhuman putter. On Friday he gained 4.194 strokes on the Stadium Course’s bermuda greens, which ranks him first in the field for the week. It’s no surprise that his first win came at the Honda Classic in Florida, and that he finished third the following week at Bay Hill. Of course, it helps that he worked quite a bit on putting leading into the week, as it was plaguing him in Hawaii.
“I started drawing a line on the ball and as I visualize my putts, that seemed to work pretty well today,” said Im after the round.
Yes, putting is fickle, even for the great putters (Im lost 3.2 strokes on Kapalua’s bermuda greens at the Sentry TOC). But when he’s on, Im and bermuda are a better combo than chocolate and peanut butter.
Brandon Hagy hangs in, stays in the hunt
It happens seemingly every week on the PGA Tour—semi-unknown guy goes low on Thursday, semi-unknown guy can’t back it up on Friday, semi-unknown guy winds up tying for 27th. Brandon Hagy was a prime candidate for this storyline after his first-round 64, and that storyline seemed to be playing out early in his second round, which would have been unfortunate given how fun his last-man-in-the-field angle would have been to follow on Saturday and Sunday.
But, after a back-to-back bogeys at the Stadium Course’s 14th and 15th holes (his fifth and sixth), Hagy hung in there, playing his next 11 holes in four under, blemish-free. That put him in a tie at the top with Im, but he wound up bogeying the last to drop back to 10 under. Still, to grind out a two-under 70 and stay firmly in the hunt is cause for celebration for Hagy, who has just one PGA Tour top-10 since 2015. Given all his length and his immense talent, that’s hard to fathom. He can rectify that with two more solid rounds on the weekend.
“Is it finally Tony Finau’s time?”: Part 1 million
If we went back and searched, I’d bet we could find at least 15-20 exact replicas of this headline, written myself or one of the other fine writers on this site, of which there are many. That is a very backhanded way of saying that Tony Finau is in contention a LOT, but still has not won since his lone victory at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. He’s Top-10 Tony. Great way to make a living. Bad way to decorate the trophy room.
Should we believe this week is going to be different? It’s still far too early to say, but another T-4 or T-5 will only further the notion he can’t get it done, as misinformed as that may be (it’s very hard to win on the PGA Tour). As he said earlier in the week, he’s got great vibes at PGA West from his mini-tour days. It’s where he made one of his biggest mini-tour checks ($21,000). Maybe the stars are aligning for Big Tone. If not now, if not here, when?
Well, well, well, look who it is
No, your eyes do not deceive you. Francesco Molinari is officially in the mix, having backed up a first-round 69 on the Stadium Course with a six-under 66 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course on Friday. He’s at nine under, two off the lead of Im. We have nothing further, your honor. Just happy to see this dude back at the top of a board, and we would not complain if he stayed there deep into the weekend.