Kevin Kisner leads Russell Knox by two strokes at HSBC Champions
By Doug Ferguson
SHANGHAI (AP) – Kevin Kisner loves what little he knows about Sheshan International, playing another bogey-free round Friday for a 6-under 66 to build a two-shot lead over Russell Knox going into the weekend at the HSBC Champions.
A bad back kept Kisner from playing a practice round, and he had to scramble for pars the first couple of holes in the tournament. At the end of two days, the 31-year-old American was at 14-under 130 and feeling better about his chances in this World Golf Championship.
"It's beyond my expectations. I had no expectations coming," Kisner said. "So it's been good. I'm making a lot of putts, and that's fun keeping the round going when I miss a green. Looking forward to the weekend."
Knox made a 40-foot birdie putt to start the day and wound up with the low score of the second round at 7-under 65 that put him two shots behind. Right when Branden Grace was starting to expand his lead after opening with a 63, he got too aggressive and stumbled in for a 71 that put him four shots back.
A strong, steady wind put some teeth into Sheshan. Only 16 players shot in the 60s on Friday, compared with 41 in the first round when it was soft and calm.
Jordan Spieth made three straight bogeys on the back nine and had to birdie the par-5 18th for a 72 that put him 10 shots behind. Rory McIlroy, still feeling cramps in his stomach on the range because of food poisoning earlier in the week, also had a 72 and was 10 behind.
Dustin Johnson appeared to be heading that direction when he made three straight bogeys around the turn, only to finish with three straight birdies for a 71 that left him six shots out of the lead.
The buzz came from Li Haotong of China, who spent all afternoon chasing the leaders and delighting the home gallery. A bogey on the final hole gave him a 69, and he joined Patrick Reed (70) at 9-under 135. Li played the PGA Tour China series last year and had a chance midway through the Web.com Tour season to earn a PGA Tour card until fading. Playing at home in a World Golf Championship, he enjoyed the moment – especially seeing his name on the leaderboard.
"Almost every hole," Li said with a big smile. "Very cool. Very fun."
Kisner isn't sure what he did to his back on the 16th hole of the CIMB Classic last week in Malaysia, and the flight over to Shanghai didn't help. He chose not to take any medication on Friday and felt his back starting to get sore toward the end of his round. That wasn't a problem. He made birdie on two of the last three holes.
"It's not like an injury where it's going to get worse," Kisner said. "It's just dealing with the pain, and it's gotten better every day, so hopefully this week it will be perfect."
He'd like the finish to be that way, too, minus the extra holes.
Kisner is coming off a breakthrough season on the PGA Tour without winning, though he sure had his chances. Jim Furyk beat him with a birdie on the second extra hole at the RBC Heritage. Kisner went blow-for-blow with Rickie Fowler in The Players Championship until Fowler beat him a birdie on the fourth playoff hole. Kisner also got into a four-man playoff at The Greenbrier Classic that Danny Lee ended up winning.
"See if I can get it done in regulation this time," he said.
Knox at least got a practice round in, but just barely – and with wife Andrea toting the bag.
He only found out last week while in Malaysia that he was in his first World Golf Championship because J.B. Holmes withdrew, but the Scottish-born Knox who has lived in Florida for the last 12 years had to get a visa. His wife spent all day filling out his forms, and they had to visit the Chinese consulate in Kuala Lumpur on Monday before getting it back. His caddie required one extra day, so his wife caddied for him on Wednesday.
"We got a stand bag from the pro here and played the quickest practice round ever, and she complained heavily for the last nine holes," Knox said with a laugh. "But it was nice to run around quickly, so I did get to see the course, but my caddie did not. So I told him what we were going to do."
The recipe apparently was to keep the ball in play and make putts, and Knox surely made his share of them.
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