Kuchar back in front as Khan slips

Simon Khan, winner of one PGA title shared the lead in another far bigger one on Friday – until he bogeyed the last three holes.

England’s Simon Khan, winner of one PGA title already this season, was the joint leader in another far, far bigger one in Wisconsin on Friday – until he bogeyed the last three holes of his second round at the US PGA Championship.
The 38-year-old had to cram 29 holes – more than any other player in contention – into a day that began with another long fog delay, so mental fatigue may well have had something to do with his disappointing finish on the demanding Whistling Straits course.
It handed Matt Kuchar a one-stroke overnight advantage over fellow American Nick Watney – and lifted 21-year-old Ulsterman Rory McIlroy up into a tie for third along with a group including Khan on five under par, three behind.
As for Tiger Woods, he had to wait until nearly 6pm to get back on the course and after three opening pars remained one under. He and 77 others will complete their rounds in the morning – fog, of course, permitting.
Khan knew he was playing in the final major of the year only at the start of last week, but such short notice was never going to bother him – he was not in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May until just a few days before.
Last year’s qualifying school winner stood 474th in the world entering that week, but he is now 107th – three places higher than Korean YE Yang was when he won this title by beating Woods down the stretch 12 months ago.
Victory for Khan would also catapult him into the frame for the unlikeliest of Ryder Cup debuts in October, so it could be a big weekend ahead for a man who feared for his future less than nine months ago.
It could be a great one too for McIlroy. Three over par after four holes of his first round on Thursday, he battled back for an opening 71 and then added a 68.
McIlroy, third at The Open last month and in this event last year, said: “I’m in a great position and I can just go out and play some good positive golf. I like the position I’m in.”
Compatriot Graeme McDowell, the US Open champion, managed only a three over aggregate – 76 and 71 were his rounds – and his hopes of qualifying for the final two rounds were hanging by a thread.
For Justin Rose it looked even worse. Two 74s meant a four over total and, since he is not going back to Europe the next two weeks, it appears virtually certain he will now need one of Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie’s three wild cards.
Phil Mickelson was in on two under after a 69, while among those on level par was Steve Stricker, who also came into the week with a chance of unseating Woods as world number one.
Kuchar is currently seventh in the American cup standings – and, unlike the Europeans, this is their final counting event.
With scores of 67 and 69 he certainly impressed Montgomerie, who playing with him crashed to 18 over with 79 and 83. The Scot bowed out in last place and with a worst-ever 36-hole total in the championship.
But with so much of the second round still to come – and much of it in the morning, fog permitting – Kuchar wisely downplayed his position.
“I think we’ll just wait and see,” he said. “They (the later men) could get lucky.
“This morning wasn’t pleasant to wake up at four after getting back to the hotel at nine last night.
“I don’t feel great on five hours’ sleep. My body just feels funny.”
But it did not show and Montgomerie generously commented: “He’s as solid a player as I have played with on the US Tour for a long time – and someone who will be a great asset to their Ryder Cup team, I am sure.”
Darren Clarke was the European who at the start of the day was best placed to challenge, three under with five holes of his first round to come.
Instead he had three bogeys and then a double bogey straightaway for a 74, but battled back to level par with a 70.
“I think I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning,” stated the Ulsterman, 42 on Saturday. “All in all I am very pleased with the way I am playing.
“I like the course (he led in 2004 after starting with a 65). It is a proper test – you have to drive the ball well, hit a lot of knockdown shots and keep the ball flight under control.”
Bristol’s Chris Wood improved 10 shots on his first-round 78 and at two over had to wait until Saturday to see if that was good enough to survive, but Irish Open champion Ross Fisher crashed out on eight over and alongside Rose was Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, currently in the ninth and last automatic cup spot.
His poor display was good news for Padraig Harrington as he tried to avoid requiring a wild card. After starting with a 75, the Dubliner birdied the second and third to recover to one over, but bogeyed the next.
Paul Casey, with the same aim as Harrington, was level after five, but Luke Donald fell back to three over with three bogeys in his first four.