The real Ocean Course bared its teeth at last, converting the 94th PGA Championship that opened Thursday with a walk on the beach into Friday’s terror by the sea.
The wind blew hard off the Atlantic and scores soared. The benign conditions that prevailed in practice and the first round turned so challenging that Graeme McDowell, whose credentials include a U.S. Open championship and Ryder cup heroics, signed for a 4-over-par 76 and said, “I’m actually quite proud.”
Yeah, that kind of day — one of the best players in the world more than pleased with his highest score of the year — tells the tale of the tournament’s second round and magnifies the achievement of Vijay Singh.
Singh, who will qualify for AARP membership in February, toured the Ocean Course’s 7,521 yards in 3-under-par 69 and stands poised to make a run at his third PGA Championship over the weekend.
The round of the day propelled Singh into a tie for the lead with Tiger Woods and first-round leader Carl Pettersson at 4-under-par 140. Ian Poulter finished the day one off the pace, and lurking two strokes back are Rory McIlroy and Irish Open champion James Donaldson.
If the same conditions prevail today and Sunday, the possibilities are endless.
Playing downwind — holes 1-4 and 14-18 — gave the players a chance. Going into the wind, 5-14, mostly brought them to their knees.
Exhibit A: Pettersson, the first-day leader with 66, struggled to 2-over 74 Friday, playing the downwind 3 under and into the wind 5 over. “I started No. 10 and was 2 over through 14, and I thought that was probably playing even par,” he said.
After the firing ceased, five players scored under par for the day.
Only Singh bettered 70. Woods got home in 1-under 71 after bogeying the last, the same number Phil Mickelson and Poulter posted with similar final-hole fates. Former Clemson player Michael Hoey followed an opening 78 with a 70 to climb 89 places in the standings. An even-par round sent Greenville’s Bill Haas 38 places up the scoreboard. Alex Noren shot 80 and made the cut, which fell at 6 over par.
“The course changed quite a bit and we had to adapt,” Luke Donald said in perhaps the understatement of the week. Added Blake Adams, who stands at 1-under 143: “On (the par-3 5th), I ripped a 4-iron with the wind dead in my face. In practice rounds, I had hit 7-irons and 8-irons in there. It’s just a different ballgame today.”
But few in the field of 156 adapted successfully.
After 24 players shot in the 60s and 45 finished under par Thursday, red numbers became an endangered species on the scoreboard with the Winds of Kiawah creating havoc.
“Someone will score like Vijay did this afternoon,” McDowell predicted after his morning round, “but there will also be certain elements of carnage out there.”
Indeed, scores over par did not prove fatal. McIlroy followed his bogey-free 67 on Thursday with Friday’s 3-over 75. Aaron Baddeley and Adam Scott survived 75s for places in the top 10, and Adams used a par-72 to climb 25 spots.
“I’m very pleased,” Woods said. “Anything par of better today was going to be a great score, and I was able to accomplish that.”
The course, Poulter said in stating the obvious, “is very penal.”
Unlike British Open links courses that can be played with low shots, “you’ve got to throw the ball in the air here,” Woods said. “It’s a linksy feel, but you can’t use the ground at all. In British Open courses, you can bump the ball 30 yards short and let it roll on the green. Here, you just can’t do it.”
McIlroy bogeyed the fifth, his first into the wind, and needed damage control. Although he felt he could have scored a couple of strokes better, he called himself satisfied at two shots off the pace.
“You can’t get too aggressive with this weather,” he said. “You don’t even care where the pin is; you just try to hit in on the green somewhere. ... I think one of the most important things is mentally preparing yourself. At the moment, I’m pretty comfortable in the wind, but it’s still a tough way to play.”
The common theme emphasized just how well Singh played with the Ocean Course baring its teeth.