It started off with some turbulence and quickly went into a nose dive. Thankfully, Corey Conners was able to pull his second round of the PGA Championship out of that downward trajectory and keep himself close to the top of the leaderboard with a round of 75.
The total over the exceptionally difficult Ocean Course at Kiawah Island was eight shots worse than his opening score. Still, he heads into the weekend very much in the thick of the chase for the Wannamaker Trophy.
“It was more of a battle today,” admitted Conners. “I didn’t get off to the best start and wasn’t able to make the par-savers early. Still felt like I did a lot of things well throughout the round, just didn’t score it as well as I would have liked.”
Conners, who began his day on the more difficult back side, bogeyed his opening hole when his approach came up short and landed in a bunker. After rolling in a 30-footer on his next for a birdie, he struggled through a string of four bogeys that included some missed greens, poor wedge shots and awkward putting.
He birdied the par-5 13th and made the turn in 39, falling out of the lead as he went to the second nine. The change in scoring was stunning from his silky opening round, where it seemed every club in his bag was working and he appeared comfortable over every shot, posting a 67.
The early part of Friday was more a collection of mediocre shots and bad breaks – both amplified by the blowing winds.
Conners fought back on his second nine and seemed to find his tempo and balance, especially with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 seventh and a 16-foot birdie putt on the ninth to finish out the day.
“Overall, I’m happy with the way I battled back after the tough start,” admitted Conners. “Looking forward to getting myself back to the top this weekend.”
This wasn’t the first time the Listowel, Ont., product has had a speed wobble while in contention. At the 2019 Valero Texas Open, he rattled through four straight bogeys to finish his front nine before torching the back side to pick up his first victory.
Last month at the Masters, Conners started Sunday in contention but went five over through a four-hole stretch on the opening nine. A two-under par back nine pushed him into a very respectable tie for eighth.
While the round was certainly surprising and somewhat disappointing, the Canadian is still just three shots off the lead. His glass-half-full attitude to his game and his growing experience in majors can fuel his weekend play, when the winds are expected to intensify. The more difficult the conditions, the better Conners likes it.
And if he needs any inspiration he can look to the 2012 PGA Championship played at this same venue. The winner that year was Rory McIlroy, who opened the tournament with rounds of 67-75.
Adam Hadwin will also play the weekend after a one-under 71 that included three birdies and an eagle. That left him at four over for the two days.
Mackenzie Hughes fired his second consecutive round of 75 and was outside the cutline late on Friday.