From one United States Ryder Cup team member to another. First-round leader Patrick Reed ceded his place atop the WGC-HSBC Champions leaderboard to Tony Finau on Friday in Round 2 as Finau dropped a tasty little 67 on the field and moved to 11 under for the week. Reed played even-par golf and remains 8 under, tied for second with Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood.
Finau covered up a bogey and a double bogey in Round 2 with eight (!) birdies, and he leads the field in that category heading to the weekend after making seven on Thursday for a total of 15. He wasn't exactly accurate in Round 2 (just 7-of-14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation), but it didn't matter.
Finau made several long birdie putts to make up for some of his lack of accuracy, and often when he missed greens, he didn't miss them badly. For example, on the drivable par-4 seventh hole, Finau drove it into a green-side bunker, hit his second shot 15 feet past the hole onto the fringe (a missed green) and made that putt for birdie. On the final hole, Finau actually had a makable eagle putt, but he missed it and had to "settle" for the 67.
Finau, somewhat comically, does not have a win at a non-opposite field event on the PGA Tour. Despite 11 top 10s and three runners up last season to go with his No. 17 world ranking, he's still searching for a career-defining victory. I'm not sure this qualifies, but it would certainly be the biggest title of his life if he can hang on over the final 36 holes.
"I think I just stay in attack mode," Finau said. "I think there's guys, a lot of great players here that are looking to chase me down. I've got to stay in attack mode, continue to make birdies and if I limit the mistakes, I think it will be a good weekend."
Here are three more takeaways from Round 2 in Shanghai.
1. Finau the favorite, but Rose not far behind: After two rounds, Finau is a +175 favorite to win, but Justin Rose sits just beyond him at +350. Fleetwood is next at +550. If I was forced to pick somebody, I'd probably side with Rose, who has now been on an absolute hot streak for over a year. He followed his 69 on Thursday with a 67 on Friday and is trying to go back to back on this course after running down Dustin Johnson last season.
"Fairly similar [to how I felt last year]," Rose said. "I came into this tournament last year off a bunch of top 10s. I was feeling comfortable with my game and I feel a similar spot right now and I feel there's nothing to lose. Obviously there's the added incentive of trying to get the 2019 PGA Tour season off to a good start, so there's the mental freshness that that gives you, but yeah, I feel like I'm in a similar spot."
2. Pieters notches round of the day: On a windy day when just 12 golfers cracked 70, Pieters shot an 8-under 64, which was the round of the day by three strokes. The unfortunate part for him is that it came on the heels of a 75 on Thursday so he remains six back of Finau heading into Saturday's third round.
"Obviously my putting [was the difference]," Pieters said. "I had (maybe) 30 putts yesterday and 19 today. That's an 11-shot difference. My focus is a lot better, and plus I had plenty more chances today. I played the par 5s well."
3. Struggling stars: There are seven top 10 players in the world in the field this week. One is playing really well (Rose at -8), one is playing pretty well (Jason Day at -3) and the other five are a combined 22 over par.
- Brooks Koepka (T40): +2
- Dustin Johnson (T46): +3
- Rory McIlroy (T58): +5
- Jon Rahm (T58): +5
- Francesco Molinari (T67): +7
There isn't a great explanation for this -- bombers usually perform well here, and four of these five are monster bombers. I suppose the wear and tear of a long year has possibly eaten into the games of these guys, but Koepka won last week, and he's not playing much better than the guys who have been off since the Ryder Cup. It will be interesting to see which of these golfers (if any) turn it around on the weekend and finish under par at the first WGC event of the 2018-19 season.