With Robert Karlsson comfortably up by four and staring at yet another birdie late in his round at TPC Southwind the Swede is not only poised for his first win on the PGA TOUR, he would move way up in the FedExCup standings with a victory.
Karlson, who entered the week 98th in the standings ( click here for projected points ), would move to 27th if the tournament ended now and he could climb even higher than that.
That wouldn’t be the biggest leap, however. That honor would go to Harrison Frazar, who came into the week 178th but is projected to move to 80th.
We’re halfway through the third round in Memphis, where it’s quickly turning into the Robert Karlsson show.
Through his first eight holes Saturday, Karlsson is 3 under .That has him 12 under for the week and five shots clear of his closest competitor, John Merrick, who just made the turn at 2 under.
Two others, Harrison Frazar and Colt Knost, are six back with Kris Blanks another stroke back from that to round out the top five.
In other words, Karlsson is in position to avenge a playoff loss of a year ago. Through his first 44 holes this year, Karlsson has just two bogeys.
The biggest reason why? He’s second in the field in greens in regulation and fourth in putting. That’s led a field-best 14 birdies.
After playing a limited PGA Tour schedule of 11 events last year, Karlsson earned his exempt status by finishing in the top 125 on the money list as a non-Tour member.
''It's a new challenge after playing 20 years in Europe,'' said Karlsson. ''It's very different to play here. The golf courses are set up differently. You have to learn how to grind it out a little more. The short game is harder ... it takes a lot to get used to.''
In his first 10 events of the year, Karlsson had made seven cuts and more than $548,000. His best finish came last last month when he tied for fifth at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Fort Worth, Texas.
''I can't say I'm excited with the way I've played this spring,'' he said. ''But I know I can play this game, so I just keep going.''
Karlsson started his round Friday on the back nine and one shot behind Mathis. Karlsson quickly grabbed the lead with birdies at 11, 15, 16 and 18. Solid iron play resulted in four of his birdie putts being 10 feet or less.
The only hiccup came at No. 8 when he slid a short par putt to the right of the hole. But, for the most part, TPC Southwind has been a friendly trek for Karlsson. In six rounds, he has shot six sub-par scores.
''I think last year when I played the practice round, I learned a lesson,'' he said. ''I took on a little too much from the tee and, on this golf course, I think if you start hitting it in the rough it's very, very difficult to get it close to the pin. It's better to have an 8 iron, or 7 iron, from the fairway instead of a wedge from the rough.''
Those who are familiar with Karlsson's game expect him to be comfortable playing with the lead.
''Karlsson is a tough front-runner,'' said former Memphian and two-time major champion John Daly, who shot 73-142 to make it on the cut line. ''He doesn't fold. I've played with him enough to know he doesn't fold.''
And what must be of concern to those chasing Karlsson is his brief history playing TPC Southwind. In six rounds he is shooting 19-under par. He had four rounds in the 60s a year ago and Friday's 5-under 65 represented his best 18 holes at the FESJC.
''This has been a good place for a lot of Swedes,'' said Jacobson, Karlsson's countryman. ''I know Richard Johnson has played well a couple of times and I've had some good finishes here and Robert obviously played great here last year and got himself in a playoff. He must be playing some great golf this week.''
Bradley, winner of his first PGA Tour event last month at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, has posted back-to-back 67s. Friday's 3-under round was bogey-free.
''I played a great round of golf today,'' said Bradley, nephew of former LPGA great Pat Bradley. ''I did hit a few funky shots, but when I did, I got it up and down. I hit a shot on 17 that looked like one my uncle hits. Luckily, I got that one up and down.''
Knost, a 2007 SMU graduate, finished 15th on the Nationwide Tour money list last year to earn his exempt status on the PGA Tour in 2011. He entered the FESJC having missed four straight cuts, but has placed himself in contention with rounds of 66 and 68.
''I'd been kind of struggling coming into this event,'' Knost said. ''I just kind of took a new mindset this week, got off to a great start (Thursday) and played solid again (Friday). But this is a tough golf course. You can't fall asleep out there and expect give yourself a chance for the weekend.''
John Merrick, Cameron Tringale and Retief Goosen are among those making a move on moving day in Memphis, where they’re 3 under, 3 under and 4 under, respectively.
The bad news for them is that Robert Karlsson is also playing well, at 2 under through his first two holes and leading by three over Merrick. Tringale and Goosen, meanwhile, are seven shots back and among a cluster of players tied for fifth.
On the PGA TOUR in 2011, the second-round leader has gone on to win just five times in 23 stroke-play events on the season. Of course the last of those was just last week with Steve Stricker winning at Muirfield Village. And since the tournament moved to TPC Southwind in 1989, the second-round leader of the FedEx St. Jude Classic has gone on to win eight times, including in each of the last two years.
Even though Robert Karlsson lost in a playoff in Memphis a year ago, he’s played TPC Southwind better than anyone over the last six rounds.
Karlsson has posted six straight rounds in the 60s there dating back to the 2010 tournament and as a result has a three-shot lead entering today’s third round.
The last time a player held at least a three-stroke lead at the FedEx St. Jude Classic after 36-holes? Justin Leonard in 2005 when he led by five and eventually went on to win.
Karlsson is now a combined 19 under in his last six rounds in Memphis and is looking to become the first player since Ryuji Imada at the AT&T Classic in 2007-08 to lose in a playoff and then go on to win the same event the following year. Phil Mickelson at the Northern Trust Open also finished second in a playoff and then won the same two years (2007-08).
Karlsson is also looking to join a group of just three players that have recorded top-10s in their first two appearances at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in the tournament’s 53-year history. Karlsson has won 11 times internationally, but has yet to win on the PGA TOUR.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Clearly Robert Karlsson has some good mojo in Memphis, and a liking for the golf course. Last year, he was a runner-up there and through two rounds this year is in the clubhouse at 9 under with just two bogeys.
Friday, Karlsson went out in 31, starting on the back nine, with four birdies and no bogeys on his way to a 65. Karlsson has now had six straight rounds under par there dating back to last year.
“I like this golf course and I played quite well over two days, and I scored well and I just like this place,” Karlsson said. “I don't know what to say more.”
The biggest reason Karlsson is in contention again here? For one, he’s hitting just enough fairways (and his misses have been close enough) to not put himself in too much trouble off the tee on a course that has some pretty thick rough. For another, he’s hitting a lot of greens -- just over 72 percent.
“If you start hitting it in the rough, it's very, very difficult to get it close to the pin sometimes,” Karlsson said. “It can be better to have an 8-iron from the fairway or 7-iron from the fairway instead of a wedge from the rough. The greens are firm and the rough is really, really brutal to control the golf ball out of.”
Of course Karlsson also doesn’t want to get ahead of himself either. Asked what a win on the PGA TOUR would mean, after 11 career victories around the world, he said, “That is a question we discuss when it happens.”
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Two years ago, Robert Karlsson was losing the vision on his left eye because of a rare condition that he still takes special eye drops for. The Swede couldn’t read the lines on his putts and everything was blurry.
Since being treated, however, Karlsson’s sight has been much better, and at least in Memphis so has his play.
A year ago, Karlsson was part of a three-man playoff at TPC Southwind, where he eventually lost to Lee Westwood on the fourth extra hole. Today, he’s trying to make sure there is no need for a playoff.
Karlsson is 9 under for the week -- including 5 under through his first 12 holes -- and at the moment is four shots clear of his closest competitor.
”It's great to be back here,” Karlsson said after his opening-round 66. “I do like the golf course.
“I learned quite quickly that you want to stay out of the rough and play the course from tee to green. Stay in the fairway as much as possible. You can't stop the ball from the rough.”
Karlsson hasn’t done a great job of avoiding the rough -- he’s hit 15 of 24 fairways -- but he has done an excellent job of recovering from it, hitting 23 of 32 greens in regulation so far.
The Swede is also putting well -- something that was almost impossible a couple of years ago -- and that’s as big a reason he’s in the position he is as anything.
As for overnight leader David Mathis, he hasn’t been able to take advantage of an early tee time. He’s just even par through his first nine holes.
Ditto defending champion Lee Westwood, who is even par for the tournament and 1 over through 13 holes here in the second round.
A player involved in last year’s playoff in Memphis is in contention again here in the first round. No, not Lee Westwood, or Robert Garrigus (though the latter is 1 under through his first nine). It’s the forgotten man of last year’s overtime battle, Robert Karlsson.
The 6-foot-5 Swede is 3 under through his first nine holes at TPC Southwind and currently just one shot off the lead.
In last year’s event, Westwood beat Karlsson with a birdie on the fourth extra hole. But the bigger story that day was the three-shot lead Garrigus squandered. Garrigus was then eliminated on the first extra hole.
Still, the runner-up finish was a career best for Karlsson, who made just 11 starts in 2010 after battling through macular degeneration. He then went on to tie for 14th at the British Open and later finished sixth in the European Tour Race to Dubai on the strength of two victories including the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
This year? It’s been a bit of a struggle for Karlsson -- until lately. He tied for fifth at last month’s Crowne Plaza Invitational, and he’s in position to make another run in Memphis.
The trio of participants in last year's FedEx St. Jude Classic playoff -- Lee Westwood, Robert Garrigus and Robert Karlsson -- are together again this week as one of the featured groups in the first two rounds at TPC Southwind.
It doesn't sound like there will be a lot of reminiscing.
"I don't know how much conversation is going to be going out there," Garrigus said with a laugh. "I guess I'll just have to talk to my caddie."
Garrigus wasn't suggesting there's any bad blood among the three. In fact, he respects both of his playing partners, calling them among the best golfers in the world.
They just don't know each other that well. For instance, Garrigus and Karlsson were paired together for the final two rounds last year and, joked Garrigus, "I don't know if he said a word to me."
Garrigus held a three-shot lead going into the 72nd hole last year before coughing it up and dropping into a playoff with Westwood and Karlsson. Garrigus was eliminated on the first hole with bogey, and Westwood eventually beat Karlsson on the fourth hole with birdie.
Karlsson said Wednesday he felt like he deserved second place last year "but not behind Westwood," he laughed. He was glad to see Garrigus bounce back during the Fall Series by winning the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
"I was very, very happy to see Robert win at the end of the season," Karlsson said. "I felt really, really good, because he was the deserved winner here. I think every golfer has made their mistakes, and as long as you can learn from them and go on -- which he definitely did -- it's made him a better golfer."
Westwood also knew he had caught a break. Obviously, he made the most of it.
"That's how golf is," he said. "Sometimes you don't win tournaments you think you should have won, and sometimes you win tournaments that some other guy should have won."
Garrigus said he feels like the "defending champion" this week and recognizes that last year's finish was a learning experience that made him a better golfer.
"This week is going to be a lot of fun," Garrigus said, "especially playing that 18th hole again knowing I'm not going to screw it up this time."
Even if the conversation isn't flowing, the trio are looking forward to playing together the next two days.
"I think that the TOUR in general is doing the right thing with creating a bit more interest around the pairings," Karlsson said. "... I'm completely for it. We were very lucky because it's a good group of people, as well, to play with, so that's fine."
But Garrigus is determined to stir up the chatter a bit.
"I like to talk to guys on the golf course," Garrigus said. "Playing with those guys, I don't know them that much, so I'll probably try and get a little bit out of them, have a little fun with them, and I'm looking forward to it. It should be fun." – PGATOUR.COM staff
TEE TIMES FOR WESTWOOD-GARRIGUS-KARLSSON
|Thursday’s Round 1: 1:36 p.m. ET off 1st tee||Friday’s Round 2: 8:36 a.m. ET off 10th tee|
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Robert Karlsson had been waiting for the kind of round he shot on Friday at THE PLAYERS Championship all year.
The PGA TOUR rookie fired a 67 on the Stadium Course that lifted him into contention at THE PLAYERS Championship at 6 under. But it marked just the second time in 20 rounds on TOUR this year that Karlsson had broken 70 -- even though he’s been relatively happy with his game.
"You don't know when things are coming around, but I have played pretty well," he said. "And it's been a little bit disappointing the way the scores have been going this spring, but it's a very important game to keep your patience and keep going. Today, I made a bunch of good par-saving putts and putted well in general."
The flat stick has been Karlsson’s nemesis this year as reflected in the fact that he ranks 141st in strokes gained putting. His wedge play hasn't been particularly good, either – the Swede ranks 184th in approaches from 100-125 yards and 114th from 75-100.
"Yeah, the short game and the putting hasn't been that great," Karlsson said. "It's a bit different here from what it is in Europe. So I've been struggling a little bit with that. But at the end of the day I know that it's usually one of my strengths, so I knew I could sort of get it back; it was just to keep going."
The biggest issue? Karlsson, who moved his family from Monaco to Charlotte, N.C., late last year, has found the greens quicker -- and more demanding -- in the States than in Europe.
"So you have to be more precise," he said. "That's just the way it is. A good chip in Europe when the greens are slower would tend to stop three feet form the flag and here it's six or eight feet from the flag, so we just have to be better."
The 6-foot-5 Swede has had mixed results in his three previous starts at TPC Sawgrass. Karlsson hasn't missed the cut but his tie for sixth in 2007 is his best finish by 63 spots. Still, he enjoys the challenge.
"I like this golf course," Karlsson said. "... It's a good mixture. A Pete Dye golf course is always quite demanding off the tee, and you have to hit all the clubs in the bag. It doesn't usually make a whole bunch of really long par 5s, so I think you have to hit all the different shots ... and that's really interesting."
Karlsson, who has won 12 times around the world and lost in a playoff in Memphis last year, is committed to the PGA TOUR in the long term. He wouldn't have moved uprooted his family if he wasn't.
"If you do this kind of move across the Atlantic, you don't do it for six months," he said. "You've got to take the decision to do it and go for it."