Korea’s Byeong Hun An can see clearly now as he moved into contention with a second round 5-under 65 propelling him into a share of third place at the halfway stage of the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Friday.
Chasing a first World Golf Championships and PGA TOUR victory, the 28-year-old enjoyed a good day on the greens with six birdies against a lone bogey at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee and enters the weekend four shots behind leader Brandon Todd, who leads on 11-under 129.
An started working with putting coach Brad Faxon, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner, recently and the work has been rewarded thus far with a haul of 12 birdies putting him tied for the lead with most birdies at the US$10.5 million showpiece.
“Brad was a great option and he was nice enough to see me for a couple weeks. Then, as the results show, I think it’s been working the last couple of weeks, even though I didn’t have the best results at Memorial and the week before. My putting stats are a lot better than the beginning of the year. I like how things are going right now. It’s making big progress and, and like I said earlier, I just need to hit it better to give myself more birdie chances. Some went in today and I shot 5 under,” said An, who is currently ranked 36th on the FedExCup points list.
Renowned as one of the game’s best ball-strikers, An has often been let down by his conversion rate with the flat stick where he ranks a lowly 203rd in Strokes Gained: Putting on the PGA TOUR this season. But this week, An is so far ranked 10th in putting, which has given him a sniff at a first TOUR victory and becoming the first Korean winner of a WGC event.
Starting from the 10th, An’s first three birdies on Hole Nos. 10, 12 and 14 were from 23 feet, 10 feet and 11 feet and he holed another 10-footer on the third hole. He explained Faxon hasn’t focused entirely on his putting technique.
“There are a few things we’re working on, more of a visual, green readings and trying to get better at those. To be fair, not much technique. Little things here and there, (and) changed my routine a little bit. It’s so simple that I changed it within like four, five days. It wasn’t that I had to work hard to change it. It’s quite a big change, but not a big change, if you know what I mean. Very simple things and it seems to be working, that’s for sure,” said the Korean.
An has such a good sense of humour that when an English golf fan-cum-songwriter, Sam Harrop, produced a song parody on Twitter about An’s game which included a line “Benny An, he putts like he has got glass eyes … please get some tips from Larry Mize”, the Korean responded by stamping the lyrics on his wedges earlier this month.
“Yeah, that can go away now, I guess,” he said. “I think I have my normal eyes back, reading the putts a lot better. He wrote a song about me, so that was nice of him. I know where I stand with my putting stats, which is not near the average. But hopefully things change the next couple weeks, and my putting this week has been great. We’ll see at the end of the week how I putt. So far, so good.”
In 14 previous starts in World Golf Championships events, An holds one top-10, a tie for ninth at the 2016 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play while he has three career runner-up finishes on the PGA TOUR, with the most recent being at the 2018 RBC Canadian Open. He has five top-10s this season.
Countryman Sung Kang battled to a 69, which featured four birdies against three bogeys, to lie a further shot back in a share of sixth place. The one-time PGA TOUR winner said: “Brendon Todd’s five shots ahead, but we still have two days to go, so I don’t think I’m really too far back and it’s doable. Depends on which way the wind blows the next two days. The course is in great shape. My iron play’s been really good, so even I’m further back, try to put it on the fairway and have a chance,” said Kang.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama shot a 71 for T33 position, Haotong Li of China carded a 73 for T49, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond was further back in T73 following a 71 while Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan will enter the weekend in T73 after shooting a 74 in round two.