By RICK BROWN, John Deere Classic Reporter
Michael Kim was part of a talented high school class of 2011. This new wave of talent has taken the PGA Tour by storm.
Guys like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Xander Schauffele.
“The list goes on and on,” Kim said.
All four of those guys have won on the PGA Tour. Spieth, whose first career victory came at the 2013 John Deere Classic, has three major championships to his credit. Thomas has also won a major.
“You know, seeing them do those things, win majors, win tournaments, is really motivating to try and keep up with them, “said Kim, who has played like a winner so far at the John Deere Classic.
Kim has a four-shot cushion on the field late in the second round, which was not completed because of weather. Twenty-three players will finish the second round starting at 8 a.m. Saturday. The third round is scheduled to start at 9:15 a.m.
Kim, who turns 25 years old Saturday, needs to get up-and-down on the 18th hole to compete a second straight 8-under-par 63. In his three years on the PGA Tour, the 63 he shot Thursday was a career low.
And if Kim saves par, his 16-under 126 would tie the lowest 36-hole score ever posted at TPC Deere Run, the site of the last 19 tournaments. Steve Stricker (60-66) posted that score on his way to the Deere title in 2010.
Kim’s closest challengers are Steve Wheatcroft (62-68), David Hearn (66-64) and Johnson Wagner (64-66).
Wheatcroft had a 15-foot putt for a birdie and a 59 Friday. It wouldn’t have been a traditional 59, like the one Paul Goydos shot in 2010 at TPC Deere Run. Wheatcroft’s putt was for 59 strokes on the back nine through two rounds.
He had closed his first-round 62 Friday with a back-nine 29, including birdies on the final six holes. He started the second round on TPC Deere Run’s back nine Friday afternoon, and had that 15-footer for a back-nine 30. He missed it, but his 60 strokes on the back nine have kept him near the top of the leaderboard.
“I definitely like it,” Wheatcroft said of the back nine. “It’s agreed with me. I’ve been hitting the ball really well and found the fairways.”
Hearn’s 64 matched his career low in a PGA Tour event. He’s done it 10 times, including the final round of the 2013 John Deere Classic.
Hearn had some excitement after the round. A PGA Tour rules official asked him to come to the practice green and demonstrate his putting stroke. Heard uses a long putter, and a question was raised about whether or not he was anchoring that putter. Anchored putting was outlawed on Jan. 1, 2016.
Hearn made 117 feet of putts in Thursday’s first round, and 113 feet on Friday.
“I guess I’m putting too well,” Heard joked. “Honestly, it’s to be expected. There’s a lot of opinions out there about the anchoring rules and what not. They were asking me about the way that I’m doing it, and I can say with certainty that I’m not anchoring the putter.”
Hearn said this is the first time his putting style has been questioned.
“So that’s what happens when you play well,” he said.
Hearn nearly won the 2013 John Deere Classic. He found himself in a sudden-death playoff with Spieth, then 19 years old, and defending champion Zach Johnson. On the fourth playoff hole, Hearn had a birdie putt of 4 feet 10 inches for the victory. As he got ready to putt, Spieth and Johnson both took their hats off and prepared to congratulate him.
Hearn missed. A hole later, Spieth became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour since Ralph Guldahl at the 1931 Santa Monica Open.
“That was a good moment in my career,” said Hearn, who is still looking for his first victory. “I came close to getting a win and I was really proud of the way I played that week. So getting back here this year and putting together two nice rounds to start like that feels very good.”
Hearn said memories of his missed putt on No. 17 in 2013 don’t come flooding back every time he plays that hole.
“I hit the putt where I wanted to and it lipped out,” Hearn said. “That’s golf, right? Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. I made a nice birdie putt there today (10 feet 9 inches), and I’m remembering that one.”
Francesco Molinari is in a group at 11 under par. He became the first Italian to win on the PGA Tour since Toney Penna in 1947 when he captured the Quicken Loans National two weeks ago on the strength of a final-round 62.
“It was massive for me,” Molinari said. “I felt like that was the next step in my career, to get more recognition over here, and to win on the PGA Tour obviously helps a lot. So I’m glad I did it two weeks ago. Hopefully there are more wins to come.”