Kokrak holds historic lead at AT&T Byron Nelson
May 19, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Jason Kokrak has a field day in Round 2 at AT&T Byron NelsonIn the second round of the 2017 AT&T Byron Nelson, Jason Kokrak played nearly a flawless round of golf, capped off by his awesome par save on No. 18, to shoot 62 and open up a 5-shot lead.
IRVING, Texas – News and notes from Friday’s second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson, with Jason Kokrak shooting a bogey-free 8-under 62 to lead by five shots after 36 holes. Click here for more from TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas.
SERIOUSLY - FIVE SHOTS?
Last time Jason Kokrak held a five-shot lead halfway through a golf tournament?
“No clue,” he said. “Maybe on the mini-tour 100 years ago.”
It’s certainly never been done at this tournament, which first hosted a TOUR event in 1944. Until Friday, the biggest 36-hole lead at the AT&T Byron Nelson was in 2000 when Davis Love III led by four shots.
Love didn’t win that week – he lost in a three-man playoff to Jesper Parnevik. Kokrak will try to avoid the same fate as he searches for his first PGA TOUR win in his 146th start. But if he’s feeling antsy or nervous about the opportunity, he’s hardly showing it. Besides, his confidence should be soaring after shooting 62, the lowest score of his 454 career rounds on TOUR.
“I’m more than happy to be out here and doing what I love – hanging out with the guys … and being able to play golf and see the most beautiful places in the world,” he said. “… But yeah, I’d like to get that first win.”
It won’t be easy – even with the big lead, which matches the second-largest 36-hole lead on TOUR this season. The largest was at another Texas event, the Shell Houston Open. Sung Kang led by six at the midway point but failed to break 70 on the weekend and finished second to Russell Henley by three.
Kokrak’s closest pursuer, Billy Horschel, is a past FedExCup champ. Tied for third is the current FedExCup leader and world No. 1, Dustin Johnson. Two other top-5 players and past champions – Jason Day and Sergio Garcia -- are within 10 shots of the lead.
“You got the No. 1 player in the world chasing you. You got X number of other players that are outstanding players. They’re all chasing me,” Kokrak said. “Same game plan – just give myself birdie opportunities.”
He made eight of them Friday. If he can make eight more in the next two rounds, you’ve got to like his chances.
BACK ... AND LOVING IT
The top two players on the leaderboard don’t exactly have a stellar history at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas.
Jason Kokrak’s only previous start in Irving came in 2012 when he missed the cut after rounds of 72-74. Billy Horschel has made two previous starts here, missing the cut both times. He shot 73-80 in 2011 and 77-76 in 2012. If you’re adding it up, that’s 26 over for four rounds.
So why are they playing this week?
Kokrak said he added the tournament to his schedule to enhance his FedExCup Playoff chances – he currently ranks 121st in points, giving him little cushion inside the top 125 that make the Playoffs. “I want to give myself as many opportunities,” he said.
As for Horschel? He usually takes two weeks off after his hometown event, THE PLAYERS Championship. But he’s looking to move into the top 50 in the world in order to qualify for the U.S. Open and Open Championship this summer.
“That’s really the reason I’m here,” said Horschel, who's currently 76th in the world.
But with a fast start this week, he's become a fan of the TPC Four Seasons course, which is hosting the AT&T Byron Nelson for the last time. Next year the tournament moves to Trinity Forest.
“I played it early in my career when I wasn’t the player that I am now,” Horschel said after 5-under 65. “I should really play every year because it fits my game. It’s a ballstriker’s golf course. You’ve got to hit a lot of greens. I really should like it. It should fit my game to a T.
“I haven’t been back since 2012. I like it now – and it shows.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Chad Campbell's outstanding chip-in eagle is the Shot of the Day
DJ'S A WEEKEND WARRIOR
He’s the FedExCup leader and the world’s top-ranked player. He also enjoys playing the TPC Four Seasons and seems due to win on a course in which he already has four top-10 finishes.
If the top of the leaderboard needed another reason to fear the looming presence of Dustin Johnson, how about this: He seems to find another gear on the weekend.
This season, his scoring average for the final two rounds is 4-1/2 strokes lower than his average for the first two rounds. His numbers are skewed slightly by his one missed cut at Torrey Pines in January, but if you take the eight stroke-play events in which he’s played 72 holes, he’s produced 13 rounds under par on the weekend compared to 10 in the first two rounds.
That’s a reversal of his 2015-16 season in which his scoring average on the first two days was nearly three strokes lower than his weekend results. So what gives?
“Obviously get more comfortable with the golf course and get a little more confidence,” Johnson said after his second consecutive 67 on Friday. “I don’t really know. I try to play as well as I can every day. Hopefully my weekend goes better than the first two days. That would be nice.”
LETTER FROM BYRON
Sean O’Hair has a framed letter in his office back home in Pennsylvania. It’s from Byron Nelson, who wrote to congratulate O’Hair on his performance as a PGA TOUR rookie in 2005.
“He had some nice things to say,” O’Hair noted Friday. “Obviously him signing it for me was pretty cool.”
O’Hair – who, like Nelson, is a Texas native, having been born in Lubbock – won the TOUR’s Rookie of the Year honors that season. He credits his performance at Nelson’s namesake event that year as the turning point.
In just his 12th start on TOUR, the then 22-year-old O’Hair finished solo second at the AT&T Byron Nelson, one stroke behind winner Ted Purdy.
Prior to that week, O’Hair was worried more about just making cuts and proving he belonged with the big boys. “Really just trying to stay afloat,” he said. That week at TPC Four Seasons took him to another level in confidence.
“It was the first week, you know, I’m good enough to be out here,” O’Hair said. “You always have doubts as a rookie – you don’t really know if you’re good enough or not, at least for me. Some of these kids coming out, they think they can win right off the bat. It was just a cool experience for me … kind of a springboard for my Rookie of the Year season.”
Six starts later, O’Hair won for the first time, at the John Deere Classic. He’s won three more times since, the last coming in 2011 at the RBC Canadian Open.
He finds himself in contention entering this weekend, 4 under after his 1-under 69 on Friday. Playing in front of friends he hasn’t seen in awhile, O’Hair would like nothing more than to feel the heat of a Sunday afternoon shootout. He also wouldn’t mind seeing the wind pick up.
“I kind of welcome that,” he said, “because I think it would benefit me more for sure.”
CALL OF THE DAY
KEEPING A NARROW FOCUS
Korean native Byeong Hun An entered this week ranked 14th on the International points list for this year’s Presidents Cup at Liberty National. The top 10 players on Sept. 4 automatically qualify, with captain Nick Price making his two Captain’s Picks two days later.
Two years ago, An finished 12th on the points list but did not get selected by Price, who opted for Sang-moon Bae and Steven Bowditch for the event in Seoul, where An was born.
If An wins this week, he would take a big step toward earning his own spot and not relying on a pick. But he’s not going to obsess about his place in the standings.
“That didn’t help me two years ago,” An said. “Trying to keep my card for this year … and top 50 in the world – those are the two main goals for me. If I make [the Presidents Cup}, it’s good. If not, just keep my card and stay in the top 50.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Rookie Grayson Murray had never played TPC Four Seasons until this week. His lack of experience on the course didn’t prevent him from shooting a bogey-free 7-under 63 that included 16 of 18 greens hit in regulation. “Can’t even tell you the last time I did that,” said Murray, who enters the weekend tied for ninth at 5 under. “It took a lot of pressure off the rest of my game.” …
Defending champ Sergio Garcia shot his way back into contention with a 5-under 65 that leaves him at 2 under. He’s not quite back at the level he was when he won the Masters. “It just doesn’t feel as smooth as I can tell maybe a month ago,” he said. “But we’re trying, we’re working on it.” …
In his first two starts here in 2010-11, Cameron Tringale missed the cut both times, shooting a cumulative 17 over for those four rounds. This week he’s shot 66-68. “I tried to forget everything I learned,” Tringale said of his approach this week. “I figured a five-year break would do the trick.”
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