Harris English takes St. Jude lead
Patience is not a virtue for former Georgia star Harris English in his second year on the PGA Tour.
”I’m still looking for my first win and still hungry to be the best and to try to get my first win,” English said.
In his 44th event, English is closer than he’s ever been after shooting a 6-under 64 on Friday to open a two-stroke lead in the St. Jude Classic. The 23-year-old had never even had a piece of a lead on the PGA Tour until Thursday when he found himself tied with five others, including Davis Love III, after 18 holes.
He used his familiarity with the TPC Southwind course’s Bermuda greens to help him roll in five birdie putts, and he holed out from 181 yards for eagle on the par-4 fifth with only one bogey to finish the second round at 10-under 130.
Tour rookie Shawn Stefani was second after a 65. Paul Haley II and Scott Stallings each shot 68 to reach 5 under. Love was tied with four others at 4 under after a 70, and defending champion Dustin Johnson also had a 70 to finish at 3 under. Phil Mickelson was 2 under after a 67 in his final tuneup for the U.S. Open next week at Merion in Pennsylvania.
English is used to competition after playing at Georgia where the toughest golf was the qualifying rounds just to reach the top five. He still hangs out with Ryuji Imada, Kevin Kisner and Brendon Todd on tour.
”There’s a bunch of Georgia guys out here that we can kind of lean on,” English said.
He won the Southern Amateur in 2011 and was an amateur when he won on the Web.com Tour at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in July 2011. English moved to the PGA Tour in 2012 and finished 79th on the money list. This year, he already has three top 10s, including his best finish yet with a tie for sixth at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.
But no win. Not yet.
”It’s awesome to be in this position,” English said. ”I’ve worked very hard the last couple weeks and couple months to get in this position, and I feel like I’m ready and I feel like I got a lot of good people around me to help me.”
Only four players had rounds of 4 under or better on a near perfect day.
English had the best round on a course playing very tough despite a temperature around 80 degrees – very rare at this time of year in Memphis. Any wind came out of the north instead of the south. Combined with the small and firm greens, hitting the greens required precise shots. Hitting the fairways also is a must to control shots to the greens.
”Obviously, if he has another two days like the first two, it will be tough to catch him,” Johnson said about English. ”But I would say I look forward to being bunched throughout on Sunday coming down the stretch.”
Love has kept track of English for years. English lives in Sea Island, and Love isn’t surprised by how well he is playing.
”His game has really improved, and he’s playing well and he’s not afraid to shoot low scores,” Love said.
English opened with a 66 putting himself into the knot of players tied at 4 under atop the leaderboard after the first 18 holes. Teeing off Friday morning, English opened with three birdies in three holes, rolling in putts from 9, 10 and 17 feet.
Then English had possibly the shot of the day on the par-4 No. 5 playing at 482 yards. After a 3-wood off the tee, he hit an 8-iron 181 yards from the fairway and watched the ball roll at least 10 feet before falling into the cup for eagle.
”I haven’t holed out in a while,” English said. ”To make it on 2, probably the hardest hole on the golf course, is kind of unbelievable.”
English dropped a 15-footer on the par-4 15th to become the first player here to reach double-digits under par, and he added a 10-footer on the par-5 16th after hitting his shot from the rough just in front of the green. That birdie put him 11 under.
”I grew up on greens like this down in south Georgia, fast Bermuda greens,” English said. ”I’m very comfortable on these type of greens. I know when it’s going to be fast, and it’s really fast. And when into the green, it’s really slow. I have a good handle on the speed. That’s really what helped me today. When you get the speed down on the greens, you can start making some putts.”
The only hiccup in English’s round came on No. 18. He hit driver only twice Friday and stuck with his 3-wood off the tee only to hit what he called his only bad shot of the day. The ball stopped near a drain. He wound up with a 30-footer and two-putted for his lone bogey.
”I’m still looking for my first win and still hungry to be the best and to try to get my first win,” English said
Notes: Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old amateur from China who made the cut at the Masters, missed the cut. The cut came at 1-over 141, and he went 73-71-144. … Brandt Snedeker (143), D.A. Points (148) and Paul Goydos (145) also missed the cut. This was Goydos’ first event back after extensive surgery on his left wrist last year. … Stefani had a bogey-free round, just one of six through 36 holes.