Rookies rule day at Sony Open
BY DOUG FERGUSON
HONOLULU — Two days into his PGA Tour career, Russell Henley was in the record book.
Henley putted for birdie on every hole Friday on his way to a second straight round of a 7-under 63, giving him a two-shot lead over fellow rookie Scott Langley and Scott Piercy in the Sony Open.
He was at 14-under 126, breaking the 36-hole tournament scoring record by two shots.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Henley said.
In the first full-field event of the season, the rookies were leading the way. All they did on another windy, warm day along the shores of Oahu was trade places atop the leaderboard. Langley opened with a 62 and followed that with a 66. That typically would be enough to stay in the lead.
Langley said he tried to stay aggressive, and then he felt he had no choice. He birdied his last three holes to reach 128.
Piercy looked as though he had a chance to catch Henley in the afternoon, even as a gentle wind turned into nothing more than a breeze, but he spent most of his time grinding over pars. A birdie on the par-5 ninth, his last hole, gave him another 64.
That means Henley and Langley will be paired together for the third straight day, this time in the last group going into the weekend.
The college graduates have been good friends for the past few years, each helping when the other was going through a bad spell. They have been linked together since they shared low amateur honors at Pebble Beach in the 2010 U.S. Open.
“It’s never easy to back up a really good round, I kind of got off to a little slower start,” Langley said. “But it was certainly nice to finish the way I did and kind of get back in it with Russ. He played so well, and I was just trying to keep pace as much as I can. To finish that way was really good.”
The previous 36-hole record at the Sony Open was 128 by five players, most recently John Cook in 2002.
Matt Kuchar made eagle on the 18th hole to finish off a 63. He was three shots behind.
That the scores were low — six players had a 63 or better on Friday — was no surprise. Oahu hasn’t received much rain over the last several months, and in tropical sunshine, the fairways were running fast and the greens were pure. And for those coming over from a windy week on Maui, it truly felt like paradise.
“Coming from last week, it feels really easy out there,” Kuchar said. “This course, as simple as it seems, it’s one of the tougher courses on tour. If you’re not playing well, you’re going to make some bogeys. … I understand the wind is supposed to really die down over the weekend, so I certainly expect low scoring. The course is in great shape, greens are beautiful, so there’s going to be a lot more birdies and foot has definitely got to be down on the pedal.”
Dustin Johnson won’t get a chance to match Ernie Els as the only players to sweep the two Hawaii events. Johnson, who won last week at Kapalua, withdrew after playing nine holes because of the flu.
“I feel like I’m coming down with whatever my caddie’s got,” said Johnson, who was 3 over at the turn. “Just not feeling well. Stomach hurts, headache, tired.”
Chris Kirk made a pair of tap-in eagles — a 5-iron into the wind to 3 feet on the ninth, a 7-iron with the wind to 2 feet on the 18th — for a 62 that put him at 10-under 130 along with Tim Clark (66) and Charles Howell III (64).
Pat Perez, working on his new attitude of seeing silver linings instead of black clouds, ran off three straight birdies early in his round for a 63 and was another shot back.
The last rookie to win his PGA Tour debut was Garrett Wilson when he captured the Tucson Open in 2001, the same week as the winners-only Mercedes Championships at Kapalua. The Sony Open is only at the halfway point, which made the debut of the rookies no less impressive.
Henley took over the lead for the first time with a shot into 8 feet to a front pin on No. 2, his 11th hole of the day. With birdies on the fifth and sixth holes, it looked as though he might pull away when he stretched his lead to four shots.
Langley came to life with a 7-iron and a 20-foot birdie putt on the seventh, then a sand wedge into the par-4 eighth and more work than he wanted on the par-5 ninth, when he got up-and-down for birdie from near the hospitality tent to the right of the green.
“This feels like a Monday qualifier,” Langley said of the low scores, not to mention the company he has been keeping. Langley and Henley were born two weeks apart.
They became friends after Pebble Beach when they flew together to Royal Portrush for the Palmer Cup, and they helped each other on the practice range when their games were in need of repair.
The difference was their road to the PGA Tour.
Henley won a Nationwide Tour event while still at Georgia, and then he won twice on that tour last year to easily finish among the top 25 on the money list.
Langley, a former NCAA champion from Illinois, went through a bad patch last year when he finished last in the second stage of Q-school and had no status. He kicked around the smaller tours, tried a few Monday qualifiers, and then made his way through Q-school and earned his card with two shots to spare.
They’re neck-and-neck going into the weekend, both hopeful they ride their momentum.
Piercy didn’t know much about them, and he wasn’t alone.
“It’s Russell something and Langley? I think Russell won when he was in college, right?” Piercy said. “Hey, they’re playing well. I think I played in five final groups as a rookie and didn’t come through. There’s a learning curve. But maybe their curve is quicker than mine.”
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