SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – In a major championship season of endless theater, the PGA Championship lived up to its end of the bargain Friday.
Robert Streb led the way, even if hardly anyone noticed.
As thousands of fans crammed into the closing holes at Baltusrol to see if Jason Day could finish off his amazing run and Phil Mickelson could make it to the weekend, Streb hit a 6-iron into 20 feet on his final hole at the par-3 ninth for a shot at 63.
He made the birdie putt during a TV commercial break, making him the 28th player to shoot 63 in a major, and the third in the last 16 days.
“It was pretty noisy for the 15 people that were out there,” Streb said.
No matter where anyone was at Baltusrol, there was no shortage of entertainment.
Mickelson hit his opening tee shot off the property and onto a side street and made triple bogey, only to rally to make the cut. Rickie Fowler finished birdie-eagle to get back into the picture. Rory McIlroy only needed to birdie the par-5 18th, the easiest hole on the course, to make the cut. From the fairway, he made bogey and was headed home to figure out what was wrong with his putting.
A second round that began in rain with one group given the wrong hole location on No. 10 ended with Streb and Jimmy Walker sharing the lead and becoming the eighth and ninth players to match the 36-hole record in the PGA Championship at 131.
Walker had to settle for a 4-under 66, right when he had the 36-hole record for all majors (130) within his reach with two par 5s remaining. But he hit into the hospitality area well left of the 17th and scrambled for par, and then his tee shot narrowly missed its mark and found the water on the 18th, leading to bogey.
Even so, he was tied at the halfway point of a major.
“It’s going to be a new experience, and it will be fun,” Walker said. “You still have to go perform. Doesn’t matter what tournament it is.”
Day dropped to even par with a double bogey on No. 7, and that appeared to wake up the world’s No. 1 player. Day went on a tear with seven birdies over his next eight holes, two of them from 18 feet, one of them from 35 feet. Suddenly, he was on the verge of a shot at 63 until he hooked his tee shot to the base of the hospitality area on the 17th, and pushed a driving iron into the right rough on the 18th. He settled for pars at both for a 65.
Day was right where he wanted to be, three shots behind going into the weekend, his name high on the leaderboard for everyone to see. At stake is a chance to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back PGA champions since the stroke-play era began in 1958.
Day was joined at 7-under 133 by Emiliano Grillo, the talented young Argentine who worked hard on his putting at Baltusrol and watched it pay off. Grillo got this afternoon of birdies going by making five of them in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine until he cooled on the front and had to settle for a 67.
This is new territory for him, too.
Just like Walker and Streb, he has never even contended in a major.
“I’ve never been in this situation, and I’m not afraid of it,” Grillo said. “I’m going to go out and enjoy it.”
By the end of the day, it was easy to overlook a familiar figure – Henrik Stenson, the British Open champion who made eagle on the 18th at the turn and polished off another 67. He was only four shots behind in his bid to match Ben Hogan as the only players to win two straight majors at age 40.
Mickelson made the cut, and that might have been the most entertaining of all.
He began his round with a tee shot so far left that it sailed off the property, bounced along Shunpike Road and caromed to the left down Baltusrol Way. Wherever it finished, it was out-of-bounds, and Mickelson had to scramble for a triple bogey. He spent the rest of the day battling to get back, and he delivered on the 18th with a birdie to post a 70.
“I think in the history of the PGA Championship, that’s the worst start of any player’s round. I’d have to look it up,” Mickelson said.
No need to. Someone pointed out that Nicolas Colsaerts piped two over the fence and made 8.
“I’m having a difficult time right now managing my expectations, because I know how well I’m playing and I’m so result-oriented that I’m not playing very relaxed, free golf like I did at the British, like I did in the preparation here,” Mickelson said.
Two weeks ago at Royal Troon, where Mickelson opened with a 63 and Stenson close with a 63, it was just those two players in a duel that ranked among the greatest.
At Baltusrol, a dozen players were separated by five shots going into the weekend, a group that included Martin Kaymer (69). Jordan Spieth was finally back in the mix, at least on the fringes, after a hot start that led to a 67. He was in the group six shots behind.
The biggest surprise was Streb, who became the fourth player with a 63 at Baltusrol. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf each had 63 in the opening round of the 1980 U.S. Open, and Thomas Bjorn shot 63 in the third round in the 2005 PGA Championship.
Streb hasn’t had a top 10 on the PGA Tour since he tied for 10th in the PGA Championship last year. He found something in his swing a few weeks ago, birdied the last four holes a week ago Friday in the Canadian Open just to make the cut, and grabbed a sliver of history at Baltusrol.