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Kelly Kraft rides hot putter to 7-under and lead at The Greenbrier

By Ryan Pritt
Published on

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS -- Kelly Kraft squandered a big-time birdie opportunity, driving his tee shot into the trees on the par-5 12th hole to fall back to 10 under par.

Though No. 12 played as the easiest hole during the first two rounds of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, he proved that scoring chances exist all over the Old White TPC, especially with a hot putter.

On a day that presented soft, damp greens and little wind to negotiate, Kraft was one of several players to go low Friday and his career-low round of 7-under 63 was good enough for a two-day total of 13 under par and sole possession of the lead heading into the weekend.

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Kraft fired a 6-under-par 64 on Thursday and wasn't done as he rolled up eight birdies against the bogey on No. 12 on Friday. He sits atop a leaderboard that has largely had its way with the Old White TPC, producing a cut line at 3 under, the lowest in the event's history dating back to 2010.

Friday's round was delayed by a half hour right out of the gate due to early-morning weather. Rain and storms delayed Thursday's first round nearly two hours during the afternoon and were supposed to heavily influence Friday's play. That never came to fruition after the initial short stoppage.

Going low in White Sulphur Springs is nothing new to Kraft, who finished in a tie for fifth at the 2017 Greenbrier Classic and who has yet to shoot par or worse at the Old White TPC.

"It was a good day, obviously any time you can shoot a 63, it's a solid day," Kraft said. "I hit a lot of good shots and I played well here last year, so I had a lot of good memories. Last year I didn't putt so well and everything today just seemed like it was going in, and [Thursday] too. Seemed like I had a makeable look on every hole."

To his point, Kraft leads the field in strokes gained putting over the first two rounds and has needed just 27 and 24 putts to get around the Old White TPC twice.

 

 

He is still searching for his first PGA Tour win and will have to sleep on a 36-hole lead for the first time in his career.

"It's still early," Kraft said. "It's a good feeling. I've got a lot of confidence going into the weekend, but I've just got to keep the pedal down out here. The greens are soft and the course is gettable."

Behind Kraft is a two-way tie for second between Anriban Lahiri and Webb Simpson, both one shot back at 12 under. Lahiri shot Friday's low round with a 9-under 61, matching Simpson's low round from Thursday's first round.

Lahiri, a native of India, hit all 18 greens in regulation and needed just 27 putts to navigate a bogey-free round on Friday. He may be making his first appearance in White Sulphur Springs, but he seems right at home so far.

"I've been feeling good over the last two weeks," Lahiri said. "I've seen the improvement on the golf course and I've tried to plug the gaps that I've found over the last two weeks and I'm happy more than anything else that I haven't dropped a shot. But I'm not thinking about that. The focus is just to put myself in the best position that I can and that's a big positive for me."

Simpson, who like Lahiri also started on the back nine, birdied the 10th hole (his first) right out of the gate Friday before a double-bogey on the 12th and a bogey at 13 killed the early momentum. He responded well on the front nine, coming in with a 4-under 30 on that side.

"I hung in there," Simpson said. "I weathered that storm and made some birdies there on the front to keep it under par and give myself a chance for the weekend.

"I told myself, 'Just stay patient, can't really change what I did on 12 and 13 and the only thing I can do now is focus on my tee shot on 14.' So, I started to hit some better shots, better tee shots, and I feel like the type of player I am, two years ago after that start I would have had a hard time kind of bringing back the good shots."

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Behind that trio sits Jason Kokrak at 11 under and in sole possession of fourth place. Kokrak and Kraft are the only two players in the field to shoot rounds of 65 or better in both rounds, and his 6-under 64 on Friday has him in prime position heading to the weekend.

"It's just a culmination of everything I've been working on," Kokrak said. "Just being more comfortable over the golf ball and trusting what I'm doing.

"If I can continue to make no bogeys, that would be ideal. But just continue to hit quality iron shots, give myself a lot of looks and take advantage when I do get close."

Whee Kim followed up a 62 with a 2-under 68 to head into Saturday at 10 under, tied with Harold Varner III for fifth after Varner posted a 64. Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, is alone in seventh at 9 under. Eight players are tied at 8 under, most notably defending champion Xander Schauffele, who matched Thursday's 6-under 66 with another on Friday.

 

 

Other noteworthy players include Brandt Snedeker at 7 under, Tony Finau, Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson at 6 under and Phil Mickelson at 5 under.

Jimmy Walker, champion of the 2016 PGA Championship, missed the cut after an even-par 70 on Friday followed up a 5-over 75 on Thursday.

Schauffele and Scott Stallings were the only prior champions to make it into the weekend, with Stallings firing a 7-under 63 on Friday to enter Saturday at 7 under.

This article is written by Ryan Pritt from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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