photo from sfgate.com: After making a birdie on the 18th green Nick Taylor holds first place on the leader board at Pebble Beach in the second round on Friday
By Jeremy Harness
PEBBLE BEACH – As Nick Taylor has found out through the first two days of this tournament, in order to get on top and stay there, you have to go low. Very low.
That’s precisely what the Canadian has done, but in doing so, he still doesn’t have much breathing room. He held a two-shot lead after the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a 63, which is tied for the lowest opening-round score in four years, and after a 66 on Friday, goes into the weekend with the same two-shot advantage.
Taylor, whose lone victory on the PGA Tour came in his rookie season of 2014-15 at the Sanderson Farms Championship, finished his second round at Pebble Beach in grand fashion, making birdies in four of his last five holes, capping off his round by rolling in a 16-footer at the iconic par-5 18th.
Taylor has, in large part, done it with his putter. He is currently second in the field in strokes gained in the putting department, as he made 101 feet of putts on Friday
“I hit some really good shots coming in and made all the putts,” Taylor said. “So obviously, it was all coming together there.
“I really love coming to this stop, so I was happy to come here, and it’s been nice to make some putts. I feel like from here, and next few months, are probably my favorite stretch of golf tournaments.”
There were a number of players who made big charges on Friday and wound up hot on Taylor’s tail, including Phil Mickelson, the left-handed crowd favorite who is known for his exquisite short game and sometimes-erratic play off the tee.
He, in his words, “drove it like a stallion” on Thursday to get himself in the hunt and more than holding his own at Spyglass Hill, and he did the same the next day to inch closer, blistering Monterey Peninsula in the process.
He started out his day with back-to-back birdies and made another birdie three holes later. After dropping a shot at the par-4 15th, he rallied to make eagle at the par-5 16th. He started his second nine with four straight birdies and was eight-under through his first 14 holes.
However, the fog rolled in at that point, and that seemed to affect his scoring. His birdie rampage stalled, as following the four consecutive, he parred the ensuing four holes and even dropped a shot at the par-3 ninth to end his round in third place.
Jason Day finished his round about an hour before Mickelson, so he just missed the fog and played all 18 of his holes in picture-perfect conditions with relatively-light wind and responded with a seven-under round of 64 at Pebble Beach that put him in second place, two shots behind Taylor.
Day did not have to go through foggy weather, but he did have to battle through injuries, particularly with his back – a very common issue in the game of golf – throughout most of last season, and he spoke Friday of the return of his health.
“I’ve been working very (hard), and I’ve been very disciplined about the rehab,” Day said. “I had six, seven weeks of rehab before Torrey Pines (two weeks ago), and I’m trying to stay on top of that right now, and for the most part, I feel pretty good.
He also spoke of a change in focus, not only in his practice routine but also his overall approach to the game. In years past, he would spend at least two hours putting in a day, but due to his back issues, he has cut that time in half and has, in turn, turned up the concentration in those sessions.
In getting ready for this tournament, Day said that he did not play standard practice rounds but rather would play different nine-hole rounds at the different courses with a number of friends.
“Sometimes working hard is not the solution,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, you still have to work hard, but don’t be so involved in it, and don’t make it your whole world.”