Ordinarily, a 36-hole lead held by the 109th and 160th-ranked players in the world would not suggest a particularly exciting weekend ahead for PGA Tour fans. But when that 160th-ranked player is fan-favorite Rickie Fowler in Japan looking for his first win in nearly four years, the calculus changes.
Fowler is tied at -10 at the Zozo Championship with Andrew Putnam, the 33-year-old journeyman whose lone win on the PGA Tour came at the 2018 Barracuda in Modified Stableford format. It’s Putnam’s third time holding the lead or co-lead after 36 holes, and he was unable to close the deal in either prior effort.
For Fowler, the 2015 Players Championship winner and four-time Ryder Cupper, it would be his sixth win on the PGA Tour, and his third professional win abroad, having taken home titles at the Scottish Open in 2015 and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in 2016. Both of those wins were on the European Tour.
Fowler has converted only once out of ten times leading or co-leading after 36 holes, the one success coming at the 2019 Waste Management, his last victory on the PGA Tour. Fowler made seven bridies with no bogeys Friday en route to a 7-under 63. His 14 birdies through two rounds leads the field.
Putnam fired a bogey-free 62 on Friday to climb the leaderboard and join Fowler at the top. He’s coming off a strong week in Las Vegas where he finished T12th at the Shriners Children’s Open.
Just one stroke back is Keegan Bradley at -9. Bradley was also bogeyless Friday, and birdied his last two holes. On Thursday he finished with four consecutive birdies to cap a round of 66. Bradley is ranked #44 in the world, but has not won on the PGA Tour since the BMW Championship in 2018.
At 7-under through two rounds, Keita Nakajima is the highest Japanese-born player on the leaderboard in his PGA Tour debut as a professional. The 22-year-old former world #1 amateur player made nine birdies on his way to a 63 Friday and is in solo fourth place. Nakajima won the 2021 Panasonic Open on the Japan Tour, and finished t28 at this event last year as an amateur.
The round of the day Friday belonged to John Huh, whose 61 broke the course record at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club by two strokes. Huh made six bridies on the front nine to make the turn in just 28 strokes. The 61 bettered his opening round score by 10 strokes, and Huh will enter the weekend in fifth place. An asterisk may be placed in the club record books, as preferred lies were in effect Friday as they were on Thursday.
Defending champion and national hero Hideki Matsuyama is tied for 49th at even par after a second round 69. Matsuyama was hoping to defend a title for the second time in his PGA Tour career, having won the Waste Management in 2016 and 2017.
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