Chesson Hadley fired a five-under-par 66 to take a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Palmetto Championship in South Carolina as a late stumble proved costly for world No 1 Dustin Johnson.
Hadley, who shot a six-under-par 65 in Thursday’s opening round, finished the day on 11 under, two clear of Johnson, who squandered a birdie chance on the 17th before double-bogeying the last for a three-under-par 68.
Tain Lee was four off the lead on seven under, one clear of six players bunched together at six under.
It was another sparkling round by Hadley, who prior to this week’s event at Congaree had endured a miserable run of four consecutive missed cuts.
The 33-year-old journeyman – who has missed the cut in eight of 10 starts in 2021 – moved to the top of the leaderboard with a round which included two 22-foot birdie putts and a whopping 35-footer.
“I definitely didn’t see this coming,” said Hadley, who took a lengthy break after his most recent missed cut at the Byron Nelson last month.
“I missed all those cuts in a row, I had three weeks off just to kind of hit the reset switch.
“It’s nice to hit some good shots, and the putter’s hot. So, if I can just keep riding the putter, she’s a sweet girl.”
Hadley added that he had nicknamed his putter ‘Nana’ – an affectionate reference to his late grandmother.
“She was just like the most lovely and sweet, kind woman,” he said.
“That’s how I want my putter to be, lovely and sweet and kind.”
Hadley’s round started uncertainly with a bogey on the second before back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes got him back on track.
Another pair of birdies on the sixth and seventh took him to nine under overall before a bogey on the eighth checked his momentum.
A bogey-free back nine, which included a 35-foot birdie putt on the 11th before birdies on 15 and 18, restored his cushion at the top of the leaderboard.
Hadley was then left with a nervous wait to see if his lead would survive an onslaught from the later starters, with Johnson leading the charge.
Johnson, who started the day on six under, got off to an ominous start with back-to-back birdies to drop to eight under, three off the lead.
Two more birdies on the 11th and 12th moved him to within one of Hadley but a bogey on the par-four 13th checked his progress.
The two-time Major winner responded superbly, though, driving the green on the par-four 15th before two-putting for birdie and then joining Hadley on 11 under with his sixth birdie of the day on 16.
A brilliant recovery from the native area on 17 left him with a six-foot birdie putt for sole possession of the lead but the chance rolled just wide.
Johnson was then in trouble on 18, incurring a penalty after a wayward tee shot that missed the left fairway.
His third shot flew through the back of the green, and after a reaching the green in four, he two-putted for double-bogey.
“It’s an unfortunate finish, just club slip,” Johnson said.
“I’m still in a really good position leading into the weekend and still a lot of golf to play, but I feel like I’m playing really well.”
While Johnson was regrouping for the weekend, there was disappointment for Brooks Koepka as he prepares for next week’s US Open at Torrey Pines.
The four-time Major winner missed the cut for the sixth time this season after a second-round 73 left him three over.
© Agence France-Presse