Byeong Hun An of South Korea (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Korea’s Byeong Hun An will celebrate his 31st birthday on Saturday at the Fortinet Championship. After ending the second round just two strokes off the pace following a tidy 4-under 68, there are no second guesses what is his birthday wish.

An produced another solid day’s work at Silverado Resort and Spa North course in Napa, California in the PGA TOUR’s 2022-23 season-opener, taking full advantage of the par-5s with three birdies and a chip-in eagle on nine. This is his first event back as a PGA TOUR card holder after spending the past nine months on the Korn Ferry Tour when he lost his playing rights in 2021.

“I know I’m playing pretty solid right now. Hopefully, you know, my short game’s still there this weekend and I make some putts. You do have to do everything really well out here, so yeah, I’m just looking forward to the weekend,” said An, who trails co-leaders Max Homa, the defending champion, and former Masters winner Danny Willet who lead on 12-under.

After losing his PGA TOUR status for the first time in five years, the Korean rededicated himself to the game. He increased his gym work rate, upped the hours at the range and added 18-hour fasting and boxing into his regime. Hitting the punching bag not only increased his cardio workout but also the mobility of his hands, and his golf swing speed has gone up by 7 miles.

The result through 36 holes – An has averaged 337 yards from off the tee to rank No. 1 in driving distance, and also ranks seventh in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. “Boxing is much more fun as a workout. That’s why we added that into my routine and it kind of increased my hand speed and helped with my upper body movements,” said An, who has three career runner-up finishes on the PGA TOUR.

“I’ve gained a lot of distance. For my 7-iron, I gained about 10 to 15 yards. The swing speed is going up about 7 miles faster. It’s not because we’re trying to hit it harder but it’s the things we’ve been doing off the golf course.”

The Korean, who is making his 150th PGA TOUR start this week, has enjoyed some solid finishes in the FedExCup, coming in 42nd, 53rd and 33rd from 2018 to 2020 and also featured in the 2019 Presidents Cup as a replacement for an injured Jason Day.

Then at the start of 2021, he changed coaches, from long-time teacher David Leadbetter to Sean Foley in a bid to become a better golfer, but the transition took time to set into his game.

“I had a terrible season and it kind of hit me. I’m like OK, let’s try to spend more time on my golf and see what it feels like to work harder. In the off-season, my schedule every single day, even on Christmas, I was practising and I didn’t take a day off unless the golf course was closed,” said An, who was on the Korn Ferry Tour early in the year.

His wife, Jamie, who is expecting their second child, is in Napa this week to help usher in his 31st birthday. An didn’t need to say out what his ultimate wish was, and simply cherished the fact he can be with his other half, who has been a pillar of support.

“It’s always nice to spend time with your family, definitely. This week my son’s with my mom thankfully, so my wife was able to come all the way here and stay with me for my birthday. That’s all you need, right? Dinner with your wife, your family. I’m just  glad she’s here,” he said.

China’s Marty Zecheng Dou carded a bogey-free 67 to move up to T11, six back as he began his second season on the PGA TOUR on a strong note after an uneventful debut in 2018 where he missed more cuts than he cares to remember. The 25-year-old ranks second in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, despite hitting 53% of fairways through two days.

“I played really solid, and missed a few putts, from about three to four yards. On this course, I think missing birdie is acceptable, and you need to avoid making bogeys. I was bogey-free which was nice. My driving distance is also above the average, and I normally have the advantage playing on wider courses,” said Dou, who won his third Korn Ferry Tour title in July to secure his TOUR return.

“Personally I don’t like short and narrow fairways and this week’s course is more of the latter, thus it has been like a breakthrough for me. It gives me confidence that I’m playing well on this course.”

TOUR rookie S.H. Kim of Korea, who gained promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour, battled to a 72 for joint 11th position while C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei added a 71 to his opening 70 to safely progress into the weekend in T42. Kim will also celebrate his birthday on Saturday, turning 24. Two closing birdies in his last three from nine fee and 12 feet respectively moved Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama into the weekend rounds following a 72, just days ahead of next week’s Presidents Cup where he will line up for the International Team which faces the U.S. Team at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Korea’s Sung Kang (76), Carl Yuan of China (70) and Chinese Taipei’s Kevin Yu (73) missed the halfway cut set at 1-under by one, two and three strokes respectively.

Second-Round Notes – Friday, September 16, 2022

Weather: Sunny. High of 79. Wind SW 8-16 mph.

36-Hole Cut: 73 players at 2-under 142 from a field of 156 professionals.

Second-Round Leaderboard

Max Homa           65-67—132 (-12)

Danny Willett      68-64—132 (-12)

Justin Lower         63-71—134 (-10)

Byeong Hun An    66-68—134 (-10)

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