ST. LOUIS — Record scores have been in jeopardy all day Friday at Bellerive Country Club during the second round of the 2018 PGA Championship. The course is softening like butter in the thick heat, and golfers are taking advantage. Charl Schwartzel and Brooks Koepka shot a pair of 63s in Round 2 to match the lowest number in tournament history.
The scoring average has fallen nearly two strokes on Friday compared to Thursday as pins are more gettable and golfers know they have to go low to keep pace with the Gary Woodland, who is 10 under and in pole position.
Jordan Spieth, who shot a 4-under 66, said he was “frustrated” with the course because of how easy it was playing and how little it separated the great ball-strikers from everyone else.
“This course would be phenomenal in … if it’s not playing so soft,” said Spieth. “And it’s not the rain that came on Tuesday; it was like that on Monday. So you can just, you just fire in and you get away with more, like you don’t have to be as precise. That’s frustrating in a major championship because typically what it does is you don’t really have to be as precise on and around the greens.”
What it is allowing, however, is buckets of birdies and impossibly good scoring from the field. We can argue all day about whether this is good or bad for the game and tournament, but it does at least give a little juice to an otherwise tepid event. Or it should (more on this briefly).
Koepka got in the house first with his bogey-free, 7-under 63 to get to 8 under overall, two back of Woodland’s lead. He didn’t even know he’d matched the lowest score in PGA history.
“My caddie said something … walking off on 18,” said Koepka. “I didn’t even think of it. I’ve been so in the zone you don’t know where you are or where you’re at.”
Koepka’s 63 was the 15th ever at the PGA Championship, and it was followed quickly by the 16th. Schwartzel actually shot his 63 with a bogey on his front nine before closing with a 31 on the back.
The South African’s 63 bumped him to 7 under overall, three back of the lead. It was a strange finish, though. He played with Thorbjorn Olesen and Patrick Cantlay in front of a mostly empty grandstand on No. 18.
There were probably more people off to the side watching Tiger Woods warm up on the range than there were watching Schwartzel putt for the second 62 in major championship history. That won’t be the case, however, if this propels him to the final pairing on Sunday and, potentially, his second major victory.
“I thought [earlier in the week], ‘You’ve got a good chance of shooting a low score,'” said Schwartzel. “I was hitting a lot of drivers. If you’re hitting it down in the fairway with the way the greens are designed, you can get the ball to about 15 feet on almost every hole. If you do that well … you’re going to make those putts.”
Schwartzel made eight of those birdie putts overall them overall — and three from 12 feet or more — but he missed the last one that would have matched the 62 Branden Grace shot at last year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. There were so few people on No. 18 as he putted, I’m not sure you would have noticed a a difference in reaction if he’d made it to tie Grace’s mark.
The entire vibe so far at the final major of 2018 has been interesting. There are hordes of people out here watching the best golfers in the world go as low as they’ve ever gone at a major, and yet it seems — at least on Thursday and Friday — that folks are more concerned with Tiger or seeing their favorite players.
That’s probably not unusual, but it creates odd scenes like the one with a disproportionate crowd with Tiger on the range to Schwartzel on the 18th green. I doubt Koepka and Schwartzel care as they’ll both have late Saturday afternoon tee times following exclamation mark second rounds.
Despite the lack of fervor surrounding tied records, especially Schwartzel, neither golfer seemed overly impressed with what he’d just done. Maybe that’s because the course is easy. Maybe that’s because it’s Friday. Whatever the case, Koepka summed up the morning best when he was asked about the 63 mark coming into play all over Bellerive in Round 2.
“Records are meant to be broken,” he said. “I guess.”