As the wind picked up to a new pace and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island became even more challenging in Round 2 of the 2021 PGA Championship, the top of the leaderboard on Friday accumulated star power in spades with former major champions Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka all making strong pushes entering the weekend.
The early story of Friday was the 50-year-old Mickelson, whose 5-under 31 over his final nine holes led to him wrestling the lead from the crowded contending early group. Mickelson had a bumpy opening nine consisting of three bogeys -- to be expected after starting on the back nine -- before turning in a bogey-free finish that featured clutch putts and veteran maneuvering.
"I've been playing really well," said Mickelson. "I was a little shaky on 16, 17 and 18 with the putter. Very tentative. And then I was able to make some adjustments and putt well on my back nine, the front, and made a lot of good putts on that side."
In the afternoon flight, however, Oosthuizen stole the show from the elder statesman. Oosthuizen was one hole shy of posting the first bogey-free round of the week; unfortunately, he excruciatingly dropped a stroke on the final hole. But he had an immaculate 18 holes to climb to T1 ahead of Moving Day.
And now, as if transported in a time machine a decade ago, it's Mickelson and Oosthuizen alone in the lead heading into Saturday's third round. Here is a rundown of the leaderboard as we enter the final 36 holes.
T1. Phil Mickelson (-5): Lefty is co-leading the PGA Championship after a 3-under 69 in Round 2. Mickelson played a complete round to pair that with his opening-round 70 including a blend of pristine putting and accuracy with the long irons. He started slow with an opening-nine score of 2 over, but for the second consecutive day, he finished on a high note, playing his final nine bogey-free at 5 under. He is the first golfer since Hale Irwin in 1999 (!) to be top-five on the PGA Championship leaderboard entering the weekend. And he could be the oldest golfer in history to win a major if he plays this out.
T1. Louis Oosthuizen (-5): "Up there as one of my best" is how Oosthuizen described how good this round was in comparison to others at major championships in a post-round conversation with ESPN. Pretty modest characterization. He hit the driver well, controlled the irons and putted with confidence. Had everything working.
3. Brooks Koepka (-4): After undergoing a knee procedure in March, Koepka struggled massively the Masters in April and missed the cut both there and at the AT&T Byron Nelson earlier this month. Now he's 4 under and in third at a major championship entering the weekend just over two months from surgery. Go figure. Round 2 wasn't a flawless round by any stretch for him -- he had a pair of bogeys on the back and front -- but he took advantage of the par 5s with eagles on the seventh and 11th holes to sustain him.
T4. Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama, Christian Bezuidenhout (-3): There was a small window Friday where Grace was atop the leaderboard Friday. Then, like much of the field, he struggled to finish on the grueling back nine. A double bogey on No. 17 cost him the lead and a bogey on No. 18 put him two back. As for Matsuyama, he tied for the low round on the day with a 4-under 68. Strong bounceback round for the 2021 Masters champion, who aims to crawl into the mix and put himself in position to win consecutive majors.
T7. Corey Conners, Gary Woodland, Kevin Streelman, Sungjae Im, Paul Casey (-2): After a blistering and borderline flawless opening-round 67, Conners almost instantly looked primed to eject from his slot at the top. He bogeyed five of his first six holes to open the day, but he held the rope and finished the day with a 3-over 75, which considered was an impressive recovery all things considered. Everyone here except Casey, who carded a 1-under 71, posted 72s on the round. Casey is coming off a career-best T2 finish last year at the PGA.
T12. Bryson DeChambeau and six others (-1): DeChambeau and Koepka were keeping pace with one another (in different groups but concurrently) in Round 2 before DeChambeau tailed off, bogeying 14 and 18 to finish with a 1-under 71. He smashed his drives and played his length to his advantage, but the putter yet again was a hindrance for him as he faded late on the tougher back nine.
T25. Collin Morikawa and six others (+1): The reigning PGA Championship winner, Morikawa did not play his best as he finished with a 3-over 75, but he did not play his way out of it, either. He birdied only one of the par 5s and still grinded out a round good enough to stay in the fight through the weekend. He left a lot out there, though, which could bode well for him as he tries to defend his crown over Saturday and Sunday.
T39. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and 10 others (+3): McIlroy went bogey-bogey-bogey to finish his round on 16, 17 and 18, closing with three of the hardest holes on the course in disappointing fashion. But giving those three back was anchored by getting to 3 under through 11 on the round. Rahm closed on a similar note with his final set of nine coming on the front, where played it at 2 over. Playing the two par 5s on the front at 1 over was a killer after playing them at 1 under on Thursday.