PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Oak Hill Country Club is just 92 miles from the United States-Canada border at Niagara Falls. It’s fitting that both the leaderboard and the gallery at the PGA Championship had a decidedly Canadian flavor on Friday.
“It’s been a pretty special week so far,” said Corey Conners of Listowel, Ontario, who is tied for the lead at 5-under-par 135 through two rounds. “I think being so close to Canada, there’s a lot of Canadian fans out here. They’re cheering me on. That definitely feels good.”
There are three Maple Leaf flags on the leaderboard in the top 10 and ties. Behind Conners, Taylor Pendrith shot a 69 during the morning wave to get to 1-under 139, good for a tie for eighth. Adam Svensson carded two straight 70s to be part of a large tie for 10th at even par. Pendrith also hails from Ontario and Svensson is from Surrey, B.C.
The first Canadian man to win a major championship was Mike Weir at the 2003 Masters. The country has tripled its odds to land a second major winner this week.
Conners, Pendrith and Svensson go back a ways. They not only competed against each other in junior tournaments but were teammates at the 2014 World Amateur Team Championship.
“Really close with both Taylor and Adam,” Conners said. “It’s fun to be part of the group of Canadian golfers right now. I think whether it’s myself or one of them or the others, someone is making some noise every week.”
Pendrith said he has his parents, extended family and some friends on the property rooting him on this weekend.
“There’s so much support. Tons of Canadians here, with the border being so close,” Pendrith said. “… We’re always rooting for each other, trying to beat each other. It’s always nice to see a couple of (Canadian) flags on the leaderboard.”
–The sixth hole at Oak Hill plays as a par-5 for members, but the pros have to play it as a par-4.
The hole played 498 yards on Friday and features a narrow landing area between two large bunkers and Allens Creek. The green, while large, is multi-tiered and has a deep bunker waiting to the side. On Friday, there were just three birdies there — and 27 double bogeys or worse.
“I mean, 6 is probably the hardest hole I’ve ever played,” co-leader and World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler said. “I don’t know what everybody else is saying or the scoring average, but it’s pretty stinking hard.”
That scoring average turned out to be 4.75 after spending much of the day above 4.8. Per the PGA of America, no hole at a PGA Championship has played as high as .8 strokes over par over for an entire round over the last 30 years. This one came close.
The sixth is the first of four straight par-4 holes to close the front nine, with Nos. 6, 7 and 9 ranking as three of the four hardest holes this week. It figures to be a pivotal stretch when the tournament is decided Saturday and Sunday.
“That stretch, 6, 7, 8, 9, is a very tough stretch,” co-leader Viktor Hovland of Norway said. “You can’t win it there, but you can certainly lose the tournament there.”
–Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland made the cut — an improvement over his surprising early exit at the Masters last month — and he’s just five shots off the pace after a second-round 69.
That doesn’t mean he’s happy with his swing at the moment.
“I think how terribly I’ve felt over the golf ball over the last two days, the fact that I’m only five back — yeah, not saying I could be up there with one of my best performances, but when I holed that putt at the last, I looked at the board, and I thought, I can’t believe I’m five back,” McIlroy said. “I guess that’s a good thing because I know if I can get it in play off the tee, that’s the key to my success over the weekend. If I can get the ball in play off the tee, I’ll have a shot.”
McIlroy’s driver is usually the most dangerous weapon in his bag, but he’s made just seven of 28 fairways in regulation through two rounds.
His highlight Friday was a 44 1/2-foot birdie putt at No. 9 that bent left and went down center-cup. After starting 2 over through seven holes, McIlroy never bogeyed again, adding birdies at Nos. 14 and 18.
McIlroy won the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014. The latter marked his last major title before a nine-year drought commenced.
–Had Bryson DeChambeau parred his last hole for a 70, he would have been alone in fourth place, playing in the second-to-last pairing Saturday.
When he bogeyed and fell into a tie for fourth with Justin Suh, the PGA of America had an opportunity to move DeChambeau to the third-to-last tee time — pairing him with longtime rival and LIV Golf compatriot Brooks Koepka.
Koepka had the round of the day with a 4-under 66 Friday to move to 2 under for the championship. DeChambeau is at 3 under with Suh. The two had a long-running feud in the pre-LIV days, with shouts of “Brooksie” on the course annoying DeChambeau to the point that it was briefly disallowed by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media