PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Here are a few observations after Friday's second round of the Valspar Championship, where Will MacKenzie and Steve Stricker share the lead at 5 under and defending champion Jordan Spieth rallied with a 68 to make the cut. For more on Round 2 at the Copperhead Course, click here for the Daily Wrap-up.
1. PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: To hear Will MacKenzie talk, he must be holding things together with rubber bands and duct tape this week.
He said his ballstriking, for the most part, was "dicey,” although he did allow that there were some "great" and "important" shots in Friday's round of 67 that put him in a tie at the top of the leaderboard.
"I'm hitting a lot of good, tough shots but I'm also hitting it kind of bad," MacKenzie explained. "I just need to clean that up. I know what I'm doing in my golf swing, but the putter is just saving my life right now."
That's an interesting development for the man who ranks 205th in strokes gained: putting. But he's moved the ball forward in his stance and gone back to the claw grip -- at least most of the time -- and the changes have paid dividends this week. So far.
"The claw's not necessarily going to keep working; let's not get ahead of ourselves," MacKenzie said with a grin.
The North Carolinian has only made five cuts in 11 starts this season and ranks 174th in the FedExCup. The putter has been the most glaring issue and his friend, Steve Marino, urged him to make a change.
"He said you've got to do something different," MacKenzie said. "I was putting scared, yippy."
How bad was it? When he missed the cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last fall, MacKenzie said, "It was like run away to a little room and just want to hide-type bad.
"You know, you can't play great, you cannot even play remotely well putting that poorly. It doesn't matter if you're Adam Scott. You need to be able to putt decent to at least make a decent amount of money."
The grip change and moving the ball forward in his stance has enabled MacKenzie to start driving the ball down the line.
"All of a sudden I'm hitting it solid," he said. "I'm hitting it the right distance. It's just like 100-percent opposite of what's been happening."
Steve Stricker shares lead after 36 holes at the Valspar Championship
2. AGELESS VET: Steve Stricker is one back surgery and four years removed from his last PGA TOUR victory. Shoot, he's only 11 months away from turning 50.
Even so, the veteran owns a share of the lead at the Valspar Championship after shooting 66 on Friday. It's the first time Stricker has held the lead at the midway point of a tournament since the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which also happens to be his last PGA TOUR win.
Stricker kept "plugging along," as he put it, on Friday. But he also came up with some attention-getters -- draining a 62-footer for one of his four birdies and holing a shot from 150 yards at the par-4 10th for a rare eagle there.
"There are times I escaped with a few good breaks," Stricker acknowledged. "... So, some things evidently definitely went my way. I'm starting to play a little bit better. Definitely putting better and slowly things are coming together."
Putting better may be an understatement. Stricker leads the field this week in strokes gained: putting (+5.606) and sets the pace on TOUR this year, as well, gaining an average of 1.224 strokes on the field per round.
A year ago, Stricker was on the losing end of that equation at -.119, although his recovery from the back surgery limited him to just nine starts. During the offseason, he discovered he was lined up too much to the right.
"For me it's all is starting the clubhead in this triangle back together and I wasn't doing that," Stricker explained. "My clubhead was kind of beating my turn back there and it was almost kind of running off, too. My triangle would stop and my head would keep moving. I was trying to play catch up all the time."
Now the field is trying to catch him.
3. HOLD ONTO YOUR HATS: Mother Nature and the Copperhead Course have combined to make the first two rounds of the Valspar Championship extremely challenging. The wind has been blowing steady in the 15 mph range and gusting into the upper 20s, and the course is averaging nearly two shots above par (1.895, to be exact) through 36 holes.
Only five players have managed to navigate Larry Packard's signature layout without making a bogey -- three on Thursday and two on Friday.
Scott Brown, who is tied for sixth at 3 under, has felt the Copperhead's bite.
He was cruising along with a share of the lead when he pushed his approach at the eighth hole, caught the wind and deposited the ball into the rough to the right of the green. Brown then chipped across the green into the front fringe before hitting his fourth to 7 feet where he two-putted for the double bogey.
The Augusta, Georgia, native refused to let one hole ruin the round, though.
"It's hard to go around here and not make a double bogey or a bogey every now and then," Brown said. "(I) just try to stay positive and keep doing what I'm doing and now it's kind of a blip and get over it quick."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
I grinded. 68 could have been 75 if I didn't grind hard. So, just got to stay patient. The golf course is hard and it's tough to make putts out there, especially late in the afternoon.
CALL OF THE DAY
Jordan Spieth shows off his short-game brilliance at the Valspar Championship.
Free play-by-play coverage of the third round streams from 1-6 p.m. ET Saturday on PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Steve Stricker's brilliant eagle hole out is the Shot of the Day
Note to self don't put @GolfChannel on after playing in the am. Guys are hitting 7 iron into 13th. That was 4 iron this morning. 😫😫😫😫😫😫😫😫😫— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) March 11, 2016
Biggest move today? Jordan Spieth.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 11, 2016
He went from T117 to T45. pic.twitter.com/uWcvPEcL26
It's the weekend! https://t.co/0FwucPUZLH— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 11, 2016