MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ben Crane has wondered if, and when, he would get his game back. He’s been in a prolonged slump this season because of swing changes necessitated by back pain.
He’s been the best player during the first two days of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, though, holding a six-shot lead in the weather-delayed event. He followed his first-round 63 with a 65 to sit at 12-under 128. His closest pursuers – Carl Pettersson and Jason Bohn – have one and two holes remaining, respectively, in their second rounds.
“I certainly didn't expect to be here," said Crane, who’s 150th in the FedExCup. "If someone would have told me a couple days ago I'd be standing in front of a bunch of cameras, I would have asked, 'What did I do?'
“It’s been a really, really hard year. …You start wondering, ‘Am I going to get it back?’ ”
His first bogey of the week didn’t come until his 36th hole. He’s second in the field in strokes gained-putting, averaging 4.186 strokes gained per round. He’s hit 23 of 36 greens in regulation. He started Friday’s round by holing a 44-foot birdie putt.
“I love the extra element of grain, how it accentuates, most of the time, the break,” Crane said about Bermudagrass, which he said is his favorite surface to putt on.
Crane's only top-10 in 2013-14 came at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, but he had to receive on-course treatment during the tournament because of his back pain. That event convinced him that a swing change had to be made.
Crane, a four-time TOUR winner, last won at the 2011 McGladrey Classic. That victory also came during a trying year.
"This feels very similar to McGladrey, just having similar conversations with God and my wife and my caddie, ... knowing that I'm OK without golf and that this is fun and I love it, but I don't want to love it too much," he said. "(Remembering) it's not who I am is big for me. But I love doing this. It's fun to be nervous. It's fun to be in the competition and compete."
LIGHTNING CRASHES: Weather continues to be a factor at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Many players had to complete their first round Friday morning after Thursday’s 3 1/2-hour delay. Play was suspended for the first time Friday at 1:03 p.m. Play resumed at 2 p.m., but it was suspended 15 minutes later. Players never returned to the course. Play was officially called at 4:50 p.m. Only 32 players have completed two rounds.
FOR THE LOVE: Davis Love III turned 50 on April 13. That hasn’t stopped him from contending at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Love shot 65-70 and has the second-lowest score among players who have completed 36 holes. Love and Billy Horschel were both at 5 under par.
Love has yet to compete on the Champions Tour. He’s made 11 of 15 cuts this season on the PGA TOUR, but also has yet to post a top-25 finish.
He’s finished no worse than 24th in his past five starts at this event, posting three top-10s in that span. He finished third here in 2012 and 18th last year.
He made bogey on two of his final three holes Friday to shoot 70.
“There were a lot of holes I felt like I was the best player in the field and a lot of holes I felt like I ought to be on the Champions Tour,” Love said. “I’m making cuts and I want to continue to play out here with these guys for a little longer.”
HOT STRIKING: Billy Horschel isn’t fretting the seven strokes between himself and Crane.
“A couple more putts started to drop, but not enough. I could easily be five, six better,” Horschel said. “Ben is playing well but they don’t award a trophy after two rounds.”
Horschel, who finished 10th here last year, is having success at TPC Southwind once again. That should be no surprise, since the course demands strong ballstriking. He’s hit 27 of 36 greens in regulation this week, most among players who have completed two rounds.
He’s starting to find his form after his breakout 2013 season, where he collected his first career win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and finished 16th in the FedExCup. Horschel has just one top-10 in 17 starts this season, but finished 26th and 15th in his two starts prior to this event.
“All I’ve been looking for this whole year is to get the putter hot,” Horschel said. “If I can get anywhere near what it was the first six months of last year, there’s going to be some good stuff.”
Horschel finished fourth at last year’s U.S. Open.
CALL OF THE DAY: Mark Immelman calls Davis Love III's accurate approach shot on No. 5 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. PGA TOUR Radio's live-play-by-play begins at noon ET on Saturday.
Yeah, a little delay for weather here at the Fed Ex St Jude's Classic. pic.twitter.com/1rYDYrkBrP— Dicky Pride (@DickyPride) June 6, 2014
First time I have ever gotten a cart stuck in the cart path.. US Opens are tough!! pic.twitter.com/8a4EXJQSr5— Brandt Snedeker (@BrandtSnedeker) June 6, 2014
ODDS AND ENDS
-- The top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking at week’s end earn a spot in the U.S. Open. At the FedEx St. Jude Classic, Chesson Hadley or Charles Howell III could definitely make the OWGR’s top 60 with a top-3 finish. Thorbjorn Olesen, Scott Stallings or Freddie Jacobson could make it with a top-two finish.
-- Koumei Oda (playing in Japan) or Anirban Lahari (playing in Asia) could potentially make No. 60 with a win. Bernd Wiesberger (playing in Europe) would easily make the top 60 with a win and possibly a 2nd.
-- Here’s how the players at the FedEx St. Jude Classic stand:
T7. Chesson Hadley, 67-69
T11. Freddie Jacobson, 67-(E thru 1)
T24. Scott Stallings, 68-(E thru 0)
T73. Charles Howell III, 71-(E thru 0)
T103. Thorbjorn Olesen, 73-(E thru 2)
-- With victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, Phil Mickelson could go to No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking, while Zach Johnson could go to No. 9.
Category Leader Stat Driving distance J.B. Holmes 314 yards Driving accuracy J.B. Holmes 23 of 28 (82.1 percent) Greens in regulation Billy Horschel 27 of 36 (75.0 percent) Strokes gained-putting Ben Crane
4.186 strokes Most birdies Ben Crane
Ben Crane shot a 65 to lead at FedEx St. Jude