Hideki Matsuyama makes wild charge at PGA Championship

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Kevin Kisner left Quail Hollow after carding his second consecutive 67 at the PGA Championship on Friday, he departed the grounds with a gaudy four-shot lead at 8-under.

Before he left, though, Kisner unwittingly offered some prescient words when addressing his mediocre record in the 11 major championships he played before this week.

“I’ve played mini-tours, learned how to win there; played the Web.com Tour, learned how to win there; got to the PGA Tour, learned how to win there,’’ he said. “The next step is competing and winning major championships. I think a big step is understanding that no lead is safe.’’

By the time he got back to wherever he’s staying and turned on the TV to watch the players in the afternoon wave of tee times play their respective second rounds, Kisner watched Hideki Matsuyama, fresh off his final-round 61 to win the WGC-Bridgestone last week, charge up the leaderboard like a locomotive to catch him.

By the time play was suspended at 8:11 p.m. due to darkness because of an afternoon weather delay of one hour, 43 minutes from 4:43 p.m. to 6:26 p.m., Kisner and Matsuyama were tied at for the lead at 8-under.

After a chaotic and comical final 30 minutes, with players scrambling to complete their rounds before darkness, the completion of the second round will resume at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

Jason Day, the 2015 PGA champion, shot 66 Friday and is 6-under. Louis Oosthuizen, a former British Open winner, shot 67 and is 5-under. So, too, is Chris Stroud, who won the PGA Tour’s opposite-field event last week in Reno, Nev., to get into the field this week, also is 5-under and has four holes to play.

Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who matched Matsuyama’s 64, is 4-under. Rickie Fowler, the 2012 Wells Fargo winner at Quail Hollow, is 3-under, as are Justin Thomas and Paul Casey.

Jordan Spieth, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a win this week, is 3-over after shooting 73 and is 11 shots out of the lead.

The star on this day, though, was Matsuyama. Undaunted by the weather delay, he tied Kisner’s lead with a birdie on No. 17, his seventh birdie of the round. Matsuyama birdied Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17 on his way in.

“My putting has really saved me,’’ said Matsuyama, who entered the week ranked 167th in strokes gained putting and is first in that all-important category this week. “The important thing is to give myself an opportunity to win and keep knocking on the door, and hopefully someday it’ll open.”

Matsuyama, bidding to become the first player from Japan to win a major, was 3-over through his first five holes in his opening round and has rallied to go 11-under in 31 holes since. He had five bogeys on his first 14 holes and doesn’t have a blemish on the card since.

Making the 7-under 64 he shot Friday (the lowest round of the week) even more remarkable were these words from Rory McIlroy when he finished his morning round of 72: “These guys going out in the afternoon, if they break 70, they’ve done a hell of a job.”

“Obviously, ‘Kiz’ is on fire right now,” said McIlroy, who is 2-over. “But take him out of the equation, I feel like I’m still right there in the tournament.”

Now McIlroy has to take Kisner and Matsuyama out of the equation, and that might be too much to ask considering Matsuyama is unquestionably the hottest player on the planet.

Jason Day reacts after a birdie put on the 14th hole Friday.EPA

“Hideki is a friend of mine,’’ Ernie Els said. “He’s been on the Presidents Cup team and I’ve played a lot of golf with him. I’ve been kind of on his back a little bit, pushing him a bit, because I really feel he’s got something really special there.

“When he’s on, his ball-striking is incredible, like he showed on Sunday [at the WGC-Bridgestone]. He’s got the length and he’s got the game now and he’s got the confidence.’’

Day, another Presidents Cup teammate, has taken notice of Matsuyama’s desire to be great.

“He wants it,’’ Day said. “He’s on the range every single night beating balls. He’s putting. He’s practically the last guy there every single day. He’s very quiet. Obviously, the language barrier is tough. But he wants it.

“You can see it in what he’s doing and how he’s practicing and how many people are there watching him practice that it’s going to happen sooner or later. With how he’s played this year — three wins, coming off great form from last week — this course sets up perfect for him, especially his ball-striking.

“His improvement in putting has been off the charts. It’s a good formula for him this week to grab his first major.’’



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