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While he may no longer hold the honor of being the top player in the world, Jon Rahm looked the part on Friday at the 2022 CJ Cup in South Carolina. After a middling performance on Thursday saw him sign for a 2-under 69, the Spaniard put things into hyperdrive in his second round, riding a hot putter to a course record 9-under 62 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Kurt Kitayama.

Standing at 11 under for the tournament, it's baffling to suggest that Rahm could have gone even lower in Round 2 -- but he could have done exactly that. Letting two birdie opportunities from inside 10 feet fall by the wayside and making bogey on his final hole of the day with a pitching wedge in hand from the middle of the fairway, the former world No. 1's dinner may not taste as sweet as he had once hoped.

Rahm retreated with his dropped shot on 18, and not only shares the top spot on the leaderboard with Kitayama but is only one stroke clear of Cam Davis and Aaron Wise. However, even more dangerous than those two previous PGA Tour winners is Rory McIlroy -- the man who has accomplished such a feat 22 times in his career and is only two off the lead after rounds of 66-67.

The leaders

T1. Jon Rahm and Kurt Kitayama (-11)

Not a ton of people know about Kitayama, and this was on full display in his post-round interview. Members of the media asked how he earned his PGA Tour card this year even though it is his second season and he finished inside the top 70 of the 2021-22 FedEx Cup, and it just goes to show what he may be up against over the weekend.

To say he's just a random player plucked from the depths of the PGA Tour would be a massive slight, however. The Las Vegas resident traversed through the DP World Tour to begin his career, an unconventional route, and was rewarded with a pair of victories in 2019. 

He rarely flinches when in contention, but the problem is the consistency in which he is able to position himself near the top of the leaderboard. Last year, Kitayama notched three top-three finishes at the Scottish Open, Honda Classic and the Mexico Open where he fell to Rahm by a single stroke.

Other contenders

T3. Cam Davis and Aaron Wise (-10)

5. Rory McIlroy (-9)

T6. Lee Hodges, Tyrrell Hatton, K.H. Lee, Billy Horschel, Tom Hoge, Brendon Todd, Shane Lowry and Tom Kim (-7)

What a bizarre two days for Wise, and I mean that in the best possible way. After having one of the best single-round iron performances of the last decade on Thursday, the former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year relied primarily on his putter Friday. Gaining north of three strokes on the greens in the second round, it will be interesting to see if the 26-year-old will be able to marry the two over the final 36 holes.

"Really, just green reading after the round yesterday. I felt like I misread a few putts so I just went out there with my caddie, did a few green-reading drills, put some coins out, make sure they were breaking the way I thought they were," said Wise. "Seemed like today I saw the lines a little better; it kind of matched up with what I was seeing and some putts dropped."

Jon Rahm is a man possessed on the greens

Earlier in the week, I asked Rahm about his hot streak on the greens over his last four tournaments, which he has continued at Congaree through the first two days. The Spaniard simply replied, "I'm confident," and he displayed this confidence in the second round. Gaining north of 3.5 strokes on the putting surfaces -- in addition to a putt made from off the green on No. 16 -- the flat stick remains the club to watch in regards to Rahm, but in a completely different light compared to earlier this year.

"Yesterday, I'm going out on the early shift with the greens a little bit faster, a little bit more slick, right. Those are about as good of greens as you're ever going to find. After spending the last few months in Europe and Arizona with over-seeding, I haven't seen greens like this in a long time," said Rahm. "So it's one thing to do it on the putting green, and it's one thing to do it on the course. Yesterday, it seems it took me a little bit to get used to the greens, but towards the end I had it down and putted really, really well, so today I just kept it going." 

2022 CJ Cup updated odds, picks

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

  • Jon Rahm: 17/10
  • Rory McIlroy: 33/10
  • Aaron Wise: 8-1
  • Kurt Kitayama: 17/2
  • Cam Davis: 9-1
  • Tom Kim: 22-1
  • Shane Lowry: 30-1
  • Tyrrell Hatton: 50-1
  • Tom Hoge: 50-1

Halfway through this tournament, and only nine players find themselves with odds of 50-1 or shorter. There is plenty of respect at the top of this market, and rightfully so. When given the choice between Rahm and McIlroy versus the field, it's hard to not look in the direction of the two Europeans.

Still, there is a ton of golf to be played, and we have seen already that big numbers lurk around Congaree. With this in mind, it is another European in Shane Lowry who looks to be a fine option. The Irishman accidentally damaged his putter in the first round and was able to overcome this obstacle with strong iron play; he ranks third in strokes gained approach and fourth in strokes gained tee to green. At 7 under, he is only four strokes off the lead and sits at a price similar to what he was at the onset of the week.