CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Most meaningful of all the text messages Hideki Matsuyama received last week was the one from Jason Day congratulating the Japanese star for his 61 in the final round at Firestone to win his second World Golf Championship.
It read: “Congrats, mate. Unreal playing. See you next week.”
Matsuyama looked just as unreal Friday at the PGA Championship, even before the storms arrived and took so much of the bite out of Quail Hollow.
Starting with a 12-foot putt — the longest of his seven birdies in the second round — the 25-year-old Matsuyama ran off five birdies over six holes for a 7-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead with Kevin Kisner going into the weekend.
Kisner faced tougher, faster conditions in the morning and holed a 50-foot eagle putt from short of the green on the par-5 seventh hole. When his round was over, Kisner had a five-shot lead over the players from his side of the draw, and it didn’t look like anyone would get near him.
The storms arrived. Play was halted for nearly two hours. Quail Hollow looked vulnerable for the first time week.
Among those who failed to take advantage was Jordan Spieth, who looks like he’ll have to wait another year to try to complete the career Grand Slam. Spieth made only one birdie — at No. 12, the fourth-toughest hole on the course — and shot 73 to fall 11 shots behind.
“I kind of accept the fact that I’m essentially out of this tournament pending some form of crazy stuff the next couple of days,” Spieth said.
Matsuyama and Kisner were at 8-under 134. Day is starting to look like the No. 1 player in the world he was for most of last year, playing a four-hole stretch around the turn in 5-under par, posting a 66 and finishing two shots out of the lead.
Francesco Molinari also shot 64 and was three shots behind, along with Louis Oosthuizen (67). The second round was halted by darkness, leaving 26 players to finish Saturday morning. That included Chris Stroud, who was 5 under and had five holes remaining.
Neither of the co-leaders has ever been atop the leaderboard in a major, and despite the difference in their pedigree, neither is afraid of the opportunity. Kisner, toughened by his time on the mini-tours, is a wizard around the greens and he is inspired by how he is hitting the ball.
“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.”
A major is all that keeps Matsuyama from being mentioned in the same class as Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Day and the rest of golf’s youngest stars. He isn’t willing to look that far ahead, and Matsuyama isn’t about to feel content about his game.
He took only 23 putts and can’t explain why they seem to be going in except that he switched to a new putter last week. He often takes one hand off his club because he’s not happy with how he hit it, though the ball seems to find the fairway or settle close to the flag.
He did pose over the 7-iron that covered the flag tucked behind a bunker on the par-3 17th, leaving him a 7-foot putt for his final birdie. Matsuyama called that his best shot of the day. As for the worst?
“There were too many. I can’t count them all,” said the guy who shot 64. “Somehow, my worst shots were finding the fairway.”
The rest of golf knows better.
Matsuyama went on a torrid stretch last year when he won four times and was runner-up twice during a stretch of six tournaments. That included his first World Golf Championship at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
He also won the Phoenix Open in a playoff earlier this year. After his victory last week in the Bridgestone Invitational, he might just be getting warmed up.
“He’s on the range and he’s the last guy to leave. He’s always putting. He’s always doing something. He’s working hard,” Day said. “And I feel like he’s the hardest worker out here right now, just because he wants to win. And there’s no surprise that he’s obviously won last week and he’s up here again.”
He will chase that first major on an entirely different golf course.
McIlroy endured another bad stretch that sent him to a 72, leaving him 10 shots behind. He still thought he was in the game, with only Kisner appearing to run away from the field and the late starter facing a course that McIlroy figured would get only tougher.
“These guys going out this afternoon, they break 70, they’ve done a hell of a job,” McIlroy said after a 73 that put him 10 shots back.
A light rain began falling not long after McIlroy’s prediction. Then, the storms rolled in with heavy rain that drenched the course and forced a rain delay of 1 hour, 43 minutes. And when the second round resumed, it felt like an entirely different golf course.
Shots left pitch marks on the green. The fairways became softer, and therefore looked wide, because they lost some of the roll.
“The golf course could have been had,” U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka said after a 73 left him seven shots back. “And I didn’t take advantage of it.”
He wasn’t alone. Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, made only one birdie in a 74 and was 10 shots behind.