Korea’s K.H. Lee surged into contention at US$8.4 million The American Express on Friday following a superb 8-under 64 as he reached the midway point in joint third place and two strokes behind leader Sam Burns, who fired a career low 61.
Compatriot Si Woo Kim also remained firmly in the title chase for a second title in four years at La Quinta, California following a bogey-free 66 to lie a further stroke back in the third event of the 2024 PGA TOUR Season.
The 32-year-old Lee, who holds two PGA TOUR victories, sank nine birdies to counter a lone bogey at PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course as he totaled 15-under 129 in search of a third victory.
“I think I played well and I’m happy with how I finished,” said Lee. “My iron game is improving a lot, and my putting has been very good this week. If I continue to putt well the next two days, I think the results will be good.”
Lee, who represented the International Team in the 2021 Presidents Cup, is well aware of the challenges posed by the Stadium Course, which is rated as the toughest among the three courses. He is unfazed by the stern test which awaits him on Saturday.
“While the Stadium Course is a bit more challenging, other players are performing exceptionally well. I believe if I stick to my own plan and play with patience, as I did in the last two days, I will achieve a good result,” he said.
Kim continued his pursuit to reclaim the title he won in 2021, and enjoyed a fast start where he birdied six of his opening 11 holes at the Nicklaus Tournament Course, including four successive gains from Hole Nos. 4-7, to tie for fifth place for the second straight day at 14-under. He was disappointed he did not get closer to the leader with pars on the last seven holes.
“I played really well in the first nine today, just like yesterday, but I think I lost my focus a little bit in the inward nine, and I didn’t make as many putts as I did in the first half, so I finished a little bit disappointed,” Kim said.
“Still, I finished today without a bogey, and I think I can take some good momentum into the weekend. I’ll try to play well in the last two rounds.”
Japanese rookie Ryo Hisatsune and Chinese Taipei’s Kevin Yu will enter the third round at 12-under after rounds of 67 (Nicklaus Tournament Course) and 66 (Stadium Course) respectively, while Korea’s Sungjae Im posted a 67 at the Stadium Course to sit at T26 on 11-under.
Burns, a five-time PGA TOUR winner, lit up the Nicklaus Tournament Course with a bogey-free 61, featuring two eagles, to take a one-stroke lead from Michael Kim, who signed for a 63 on the same course. This will be the seventh occasion where Burns will hold the 36-hole lead/co-lead for.
The 27-year-old Burns brilliantly followed up his first eagle on the fourth hole with a hat trick of birdies and then replicated this impressive run on the back nine by securing four successive birdies from Hole Nos. 13-16 to complement his second eagle on the 11th. “On 4 I hit a really good tee shot in there, had 5-iron in. Hit it to probably 15 feet or so, was able to make it. Then hit a good one off 11. Had a really good number, perfect 7-iron. Hit it in there close to three feet. Those were key holes today, for sure,” said Burns, who also sank two eagles during the final round of The Sentry recently.
All 156 players compete in one round each during the first three days at La Quinta Country Club, PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and Stadium Course. The cut will be made at the 54-hole mark, with the Stadium Course being used in the final round.
Second-Round Notes – Friday, January 19, 2024
Weather: Sunny. High of 73. Wind SE 4-8 mph.
|Nick Dunlap (a)