China’s Carl Yuan grabbed six birdies in a five-under-par 65 to share the halfway lead in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open with An Byeong-hun and Austin Eckroat on Friday.
Yuan, chasing a first Tour title, started the season’s first full-field event at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii, as a full member of the Tour – inheriting the last spot when Spain’s Jon Rahm jumped to LIV Golf and was suspended, losing his place in the FedEx Cup standings.
Yuan admitted it was “kind of a relief” to have the security of full membership, which gives him guaranteed access to more events, but said it won’t change his early-season aims.
“Before I learned the news I was really trying to get myself ready and come out and play good in Hawaii and on the West Coast and try to earn myself [a place] back on Tour,” said Yuan, who was able to skip a return to Q-school.
“Luckily I got full status, but I’m still trying to do the same thing and come out here and play the best I can.”
On Friday that meant a steady climb up the leaderboard that saw him first in the clubhouse on nine-under-par 131 after a two-putt birdie at the par-five 18th.
He was joined by Eckroat, who had five birdies and one bogey in his four-under 66, which was capped by a birdie at his last hole – the par-five 9th.
An played without a bogey, making the last of his six birdies at the 18th to conclude his 64.
“Didn’t get as many putts as I would like to fall, but easy to look back and say that,” said Eckroat, who was celebrating his 25th birthday. “Really solid round. Shooting 66 isn’t a bad birthday.”
Sixteen players were within two strokes of the leading trio, starting with a group of 10 players on eight-under 132 that included first-round leader Cam Davis of Australia, veteran Stewart Cink and Chris Kirk, winner of the season-opening Sentry tournament at Kapalua on Sunday.
Another six players were tied on seven-under 133.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen shot 67 to go into the weekend on four-under 136 (T38) with countryman Garrick Higgo a further two strokes behind after carding 66.
Yuan had two top-10 finishes last season, and said he would draw on those experiences in what promises to be a hard-fought weekend.
“I had a couple chances last year being in the final two groups, having a shot on the weekend,” Yuan said. “I feel like I just got to do what I did the last two days: be patient and stay committed, know exactly what I’m going to do before I hit a shot and see how it turns out.”
Those missing the cut included former US Open champion Gary Woodland, who was playing for the first time since September surgery to remove a brain lesion that caused anxiety and fears of death.
“There was a time where I didn’t know if this was going to be possible,” an emotional Woodland said after shooting a second straight one-over-par 71. “It was a good week for me from a mental standpoint.
“I needed to be mentally sharp to get where I want to be in the world. It’s coming back.”
© Agence France-Presse
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