After a flurry of storms pushed the second round to a twilight finish at Congaree Golf Club, the stage is set for a memorable weekend in the first-ever Palmetto Championship.
With a standout round of 5-under 66, Chesson Hadley surged past a crowded logjam on a windy Friday to reach 11-under and take a two-shot lead over Dustin Johnson into the weekend.
The 33-year-old had missed five consecutive cuts going into this week’s event, but Hadley put it all together for the second straight day thanks to a dominant performance on the greens.
“I definitely didn’t see this coming,” Hadley said. “The putter was hot today. Just felt really good with it. That’s been a bright spot to the year. If I can stay hot with the putter and keep kind of hitting it with the way I’m hitting it, that’s very exciting for the rest of this week.”
After an early bogey on the par-5 2nd, Hadley dropped just one more stroke the rest of the way while racking up seven birdies fueled by a trio of sensational putts. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native drained a 35-footer on the 11th and finished his round with a near-flawless approach on a difficult 18th to extend the lead.
But the world’s top player lurks right behind, as Johnson posted a solid 68 to come within two of Hadley at 9-under. The South Carolina native stormed out of the starting blocks in the afternoon session, making birdies on the first two holes before adding four more on the back nine to move into a tie for first. It looked like the lead was his for the taking, but a misplay off the tee on 18 ended the strong day on a sour note. Despite a tough finish, the two-time major champion is looking like a strong favorite to pick up his first PGA Tour victory in his home state.
“I’m pleased with the way I played,” Johnson said. “Obviously, it’s an unfortunate finish, just a club slip. It happens. I’m still in a really good position leading into the weekend and still a lot of golf to play, but I feel like I’m playing really well.”
But the story of the week so far at Congaree may very well go to last-minute qualifier Tain Lee, who earned his spot in the field Sunday at Belfair Golf Club. After starting his Congaree campaign with a brilliant 67, Lee followed it up a day later with a 3-under 68 to move into sole possession of third place at 7-under. The 31-year-old tallied eight birdies on the round, including five in the first six holes on an exceedingly difficult back nine. Lee‘s accuracy was pinpoint on the final pair of par 3s, knocking both tee shots within four feet of the flagstick. Just a handful of days ago, Lee was not even qualified for the field. Now, he’s just four back of the lead after 36 holes.
“I just kept my head down today,” Lee said. “I was trying to make birdies and see what we can do, make the cut, first and foremost. Third place going into the weekend, I’ll take that for sure, and I’ll try to keep my head down and do more of the same.”
Six others are within five strokes of Hadley’s lead, as Harris English, Chez Reavie, Erik van Rooyen, Pat Perez, Seamus Power, and Wilco Nienaber all sit in a tie for fourth at -6. After taking a lead after the opening round, Wes Roach tumbled back to a tie for 29th with a 6-over 77.
Joining the weekend contingent will be one of the Lowco’s own. It suddenly looked like it was all falling apart after a stellar 3-under first round, but Bryson Nimmer recovered from a disastrous 4-over stretch near the end of the front nine on Friday to keep his Palmetto Championship alive, making a clutch birdie on the 9th and driving the green on the par-4 15th to set up another. An armada of storm clouds abruptly gave Nimmer some time to think about it with two holes to play, but the Bluffton native hung tough in a round full of challenging conditions. Despite a bogey on a sandy finishing hole, Nimmer landed right on the cut line at 1-over to book his spot in the weekend rounds.
A couple of big names weren’t so fortunate at Congaree, as Kevin Kisner (+2), Brooks Koepka, (+3), and course ambassador Lucas Glover (+7) all failed to qualify for the weekend. A total of 68 players survived the cut with two-day totals of 1-over or better.
Nimmer will be in the first group on the tee at 8:05 a.m. Saturday, while Hadley and Johnson are set for a 1:50 p.m. start. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast throughout the day.
By Wes Kerr / Photos by Justin Jarrett