CROMWELL, Conn. — There’s a 27-year difference between two of the golfers atop the Travelers Championship leaderboard after Friday’s second round, with 50-year-old Phil Mickelson alone in first at 13-under, and 23-year-old Will Gordon tied for second at 12-under. Twenty-nine year old Mackenzie Hughes, who led after round one, is also at 12-under.
Mickelson has done this before. He’s a two-time champion at TPC River Highlands, and a 44-time winner on the PGA Tour overall. Gordon, a year removed from winning SEC Player of the Year at Vanderbilt and playing in just his eighth tour event, has not.
Mickelson started slow, with a bogey and three pars through his first four holes, but rattled off eight birdies over his final 14 holes to surge into first place after starting the day at 6-under.
“I made some strides in the sense that I didn’t try to go toe-to-toe with two of the longest guys in the game, Bryson (DeChambeau) and Rory (McIlroy). I ended up hitting some 3-woods on some of those holes because it fit my game better, and fortunately I made a couple of birdies,” Mickelson said. “Playing my game and the way the course set up for me was a challenge when you’re playing with guys that hit it like that, but it allowed me to play some good golf.
Unlike Mickelson, Gordon’s life on the PGA Tour right now is at the mercy of Monday qualifiers, sponsor exemptions, and a few good rounds here and there to keep him going. To make matters more challenging, the PGA Tour’s Canadian circuit, the Mackenzie Tour, which Gordon played on last year, canceled its 2020 season due to COVID-19.
Gordon is in limbo, really. Without a PGA Tour card, or status on the Korn Ferry Tour, events aren’t guaranteed, and its been up to him to make the most of the opportunities he does get.
Through two rounds at the Travelers Championship, he’s made good on his chance.
Gordon fired off a score of 8-under 62 on Friday, surging into first place as he entered the clubhouse in the afternoon.
“It makes you really thankful for the opportunities you do have,” Gordon said. “But I mean, I can’t force it. If it was all up to me, I’d have my PGA Tour card right now, but it’s not. So I’ve just got to take it with stride and have fun and do it confidently.”
Gordon’s impressive round came without fans on the course, as they are prohibited due to coronavirus. Two golfers withdrew from the tournament Friday before teeing off: Denny McCarthy, who tested positive for the virus, and Bud Cauley, who did not have a positive test but withdrew after he played with McCarthy on Thursday.
After the Mackenzie Tour was canceled, Gordon had enough FedEx Cup points to earn a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour finals. Then those were canceled, too, and it was back to square one. On Tour in 2020, Gordon finished tied for 20th at the Puerto Rico Open in February before the tour shut down, and tied for 21st at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
He’s playing at TPC River Highlands on a sponsor’s exemption. The Travelers Championship has a history of giving younger players exemptions into the field. Gordon is among the latest, and is in position to parlay a strong finish this weekend into a longer stay on tour.
“I was supposed to play in three events that got canceled over COVID, so for those guys to take a chance on me and believe in me means the world,” Gordon said.
Hughes shot the third ever 60 in tournament history on Thursday to take the lead after round one, and did just enough to stay in position on Friday, shooting a 2-under 68. He and Gordon hold a three-shot lead over the next closest competitors.
“Didn’t really make many of those today which I was making yesterday,” Hughes said. “But all in all, pretty pleased.”
Xander Schauffele, who stormed up the leaderboard on Thursday afternoon, shot a 2-under-par-68 on Friday to move to 9-under, and ended the day tied with McIlroy, Brendan Steele, Brendon Todd and Marc Lieshman for fourth. He started slow, with pars on his first six holes, followed by a bogey, but birdied three in a row after the turn to build a little momentum as he closed out his round.
“You know, I gave myself chances in the right spots and was able to make some par putts early in the round,” Schauffele said. “I could have easily been 3-over on the front nine versus 1, so overall very happy.”
Schauffele, the No. 10 golfer in the world, admitted he got some “good breaks” on Thursday, and some “weird breaks” on Friday, including a bogey on the sixth hole.
“I started licking my chops on 6,” he said. “I thought it was going to be sort of down draw, and threw some grass up, and (Justin Thomas) and I were laughing on the tee box, it was kind of back into us, which we thought was comical. And yeah, right rough isn’t a good spot, and that left bunker isn’t great, either.”
DeChambeau, the world’s 11th ranked player, is tied for ninth with 11 others at 8-under. He shot a 3-under 67 on Friday, with two back-nine bogeys mixed in there, including a tee shot on No. 10 that bounced around the cart path adjacent to a neighboring hole, and another on No. 13 that soared out of play.
“For me, I’m still trying to play like the casino,” DeChambeau said. “I played my worst golf the past couple days and I’m still up there. Look, I might play worse tomorrow, might play better tomorrow. I have no idea. It’s just one of those things where I don’t feel like my “A” game is there, and I have putts lipping out on the edges left and right. It’s unbelievable”
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