Daniel Berger stormed to the top of the FedEx St Jude Classic leaderboard with the lowest score of the week, a six-under-par 64 in Friday’s second round, although the ominous figure of golfing heavyweight Phil Mickelson was in hot pursuit.
The US’ Berger, the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year last season after recording two second placings among his 13 top-25 finishes, jumped three shots clear of his closest pursuers at the TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, with a nine-under halfway total of 131.
Little-known US golfer Tom Hoge (69) was alone in second, with Mickelson, a five-time major winner who next week is to head to Oakmont searching for a first US Open victory after a record six runner-up finishes, joint third on five-under after a 65.
“I am putting well, no question,” Mickelson told PGA Tour radio. “I didn’t strike it as well as I have been this year for the first couple of days. It’s just a fraction off and I’m going to go work on it now.”
“Hopefully I can figure out what the difference is, because if I can hit a few more greens, the way I am putting, I should have a good chance [of winning],” he added.
Equal third with Mickelson were compatriots Brooks Koepka (65) and long-hitting Dustin Johnson, who got to eight-under before dropping three shots in his last two holes for a 69.
Johnson, the 2012 champion, bogeyed the 17th after bunkering his approach before running up a double at the last, where he three-putted from seven feet.
“I played a lot better than my score,” said Johnson, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour. “Making bogey and double on the last two holes from the middle of the fairway is not a very good finish. I just made a couple bad swings.”
“I feel like I am playing really well, I got a lot of confidence in my game on this golf course, I just need to go out and shoot another good score tomorrow,” he added.
Berger, whose father, Jay, was head coach of the 2012 US Olympic tennis team, was delighted to go bogey-free after scrambling well while relying on a red-hot putter.
“My speed control has been great and on the greens, I feel like I am just at home,” the 23-year-old from Florida said. “I love the Bermuda [grass] and I don’t even read grain here.”
“I just look at it and I see it, it’s just from years and years of putting on it. Overall, just excited to play a bogey-free round,” he added.
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