KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) Zach Johnson putted for birdie on every hole and made seven of them Saturday for a 6-under 67 that put him in a four-way tie for the lead after two rounds of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Johnson was halfway home to becoming the first repeat winner at Kapalua who wasn’t from Australia – Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy were the others. But not only is the first PGA Tour event of the year only through 36 holes, it’s extraordinarily crowded.
Jimmy Walker dropped a stroke late and shot 68. Russell Henley got off to a sluggish start before a solid back nine for a 70. Bae Sang-Moon closed with eight straight pars for a 69. They joined Johnson at 11-under 135.
Scott Stalling was in that group until twice hitting into the bushes and tall grass – on his tee shot at the 17th and his second shot at the par-5 18th. Both cost him bogeys in a 70 that sent him spiraling down the leaderboard, just not very far.
He was among 10 players separated by just two shots going into the third round.
Five players, including Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama, were in the group one shot behind.
So much for this week being a working vacation along the western shores of Maui. These guys came to play.
”I think it’s so competitive,” Henley said. ”I think the way guys look at it now, it’s a great opportunity to have a good finish and get off to a great start, if not win.”
Johnson got off to a great start last year when he won. That turned out to be his only victory of 2014, and he’s right back in the hunt again. His only bogey on another benign day above the blue Pacific was a three-putt on the eighth hole. He made birdie on all the par 5s, though the last one required a little more work.
Johnson popped up his drive, which still went 294 yards because of the 150-foot drop from the tee to the fairway. He had to pound a 3-wood to get beyond the neck of the fairway, and then he flew his third shot beyond the flag. Shots like that used to roll off the back of the green. In soft conditions, this one stayed, and Johnson made a 15-foot putt to be the first to reach 11 under.
Walker didn’t get away from his mistake late in the round. Adjusting for the severe drop in elevation over a gorge in front of the 17th green, he figured it was an 8-iron. The uncertainty was the wind, and not totally convinced of his club selection, he hit chunky and barely got onto the green. He three-putted from 70 feet, and then failed to birdie the 18th.
Bae was the first player to get to 10 under, though his round slowed with one birdie on the back nine.
Matsuyama and Charley Hoffman each shot 66 for the low rounds Saturday. Hoffman ran off seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch to share the lead, only to hit into the hazard on the 17th for a double bogey. He bounced backed with his seventh birdie of the back nine.
Hoffman was the last player to qualify for this winners-only event with a victory in Mexico in November.
The weather has been ideal for two days, with abundant sunshine and limited wind. The conditions are softer than usual because of spells of heavy rain in recent weeks. That might be contributing to a leaderboard that is bunched up heading into the final two rounds.
Half of the 34-man field was within five shots of the lead.