For the longest time, the US PGA Championship looked as though it might be a case of survival at Quail Hollow.
Kevin Kisner was efficient as ever with his wedges and putter in posting a 4-under 67 in the second round. When he finished, none of the other early starters on Friday were within five shots of the lead. Then the storms arrived, and everything changed.
Hideki Matsuyama, the Japanese star coming off a 61 in the final round to win a World Golf Championship last week, finished off a stretch of five birdies in six holes for a 64 that gave him a share of the 36-hole lead.
Jason Day started looking like the player who was No. 1 for so much of last year. The US PGA Championship winner at Whistling Straits two years ago shot a 66 and was two shots behind.
Quail Hollow, so frightening on Thursday and the early part of Friday, suddenly looked vulnerable.
That could leave the final major of the year up for grabs over the final 36 holes on the weekend, but not for everybody. Jordan Spieth all but ruled himself out after failing to take advantage over the last seven holes after the rain. He finished with a bogey and a 73 and was 11 shots behind.
Rory McIlroy thought he was still in the hunt despite another rough patch that gave him a 72 and put him 10 shots back. He said anyone who broke 70 was going great. And while McIlroy has shot rounds of 62 and 61 in his two PGA Tour victories at Quail Hollow, he said a low round on this course is more like 66 or 67.
But that was before the rain. And now he’s not sure what it will take.
LEADERS: Matsuyama and Kisner were at 8-under 134, and this is the first time for either player to be atop the leaderboard after any round of a major.
Matsuyama has more experience on the big stage. He already has two World Golf Championships title and 14 victories around the world, six of them in the last 10 months. He found his putting touch last week when he shot 61 in the final round to win at Firestone, and he is riding that momentum.
Kisner is all about grit and a sharp short game. He loves Bermuda, the grass now in place at Quail Hollow, and his confidence soars when he’s hitting it well. He has shot two rounds of 67 in the toughest conditions.
“I haven’t hit it this well this whole summer - a lot of average finishes,” Kisner said. “When I start hitting it the way I am now, I play well.”
THE CHASER: Day hasn’t won since The Players Championship last May, back when he was No. 1 in the world by such a margin that he stayed at the top of the ranking the rest of the year without winning. He started to show signs of turning the corner last week at Firestone.
He looked like the Day of old on Friday at Quail Hollow with his power off the tee and putting touch. Even the putts Day missed looked like they might go in.
“The two things that were missing pretty much the whole year was my driving and my putting,” Day said. “And being able to combine that today, just felt like the old days - which is only last year.”
GONE: Phil Mickelson celebrated playing in his 100th career major, but it only last two days.
Mickelson didn’t make a birdie until his 31st hole, and by then it was too late. He missed the cut in the PGA Championship for the first time since 1992, which was a year before Spieth was born. Mickelson hasn’t won since the Open in 2013, and this ends a streak of three consecutive years when he at least had a runner-up finish in a major. Now, he wonders how much longer his season will last.
He can count on two FedEx Cup play-off events, but he’ll probably have to show some form to advance through the PGA Tour’s post-season and, more importantly to him, give US captain Steve Stricker a reason to pick him for the Presidents Cup. Mickelson hasn’t missed a team event since 1993.
SLAMMED: Three weeks after Spieth got the third leg of the Grand Slam by winning the Open, his putting stroke hasn’t helped him at Quail Hollow. He has managed only four birdies in 36 holes. He made only one of them Friday.
“With one birdie, it’s going to be hard to post a solid round,” Spieth said. “Onto the weekend to try and fire at stuff. Nothing to lose.”
STILL IN THE HUNT: With 26 players still trying to finish the second round, 17 players remained under par. The group only five shots behind featured Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Paul Casey. It might seem like a lot the way Matsuyama and Kisner are playing, but it doesn’t to Thomas.
“I can make up five shots in nine holes, let alone 36 holes,” Thomas said. “There’s lot of things that can happen. I have to play great but we’re only halfway through.”