Suh Birdies No. 18 for 64 to Lead Kirk (62) by One Stroke in 51st Honda Classic

Justin Suh might be ready to live up to the promise he showed as the No. 1 amateur in the world.

The 25-year-old Suh, from San Jose and USC, capped a brilliant six-under-par 64 with an eight-foot birdie putt on the last hole to take a one-stroke lead over Chris Kirk midway through the 51st Honda Classic on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Suh came out of college in 2019 about the same time as Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff, and watched as they all had success on the PGA Tour fairly early, but he struggled a bit.

“I never really let it get to me,” said Suh, whose only pro victory came in the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Championship. “Obviously, they had immediate success, and it was cool watching them play so great. But for me, I knew I needed to improve. I just kept my head down and worked on my game.

“Everyone is on a different path. All I’m focused on is just improving on a daily basis. … The putter got hot (on Friday). It was fun to see the putts go in, even though I wasn’t trying to make them at Nos. 9 and 10. I was just trying to get them close and they just happened to go into the hole. That was a real plus.”

Suh, who sank 158 feel of putts in his round, made his only bogey on the second hole, but then rattled off nine birdies including four in a row through the turn, while recording a 36-hole score of 10-under 130.

Kirk, 37, who has four victories on the PGA Tour but none since the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, actually outscored Suh in the second round with a 62 that included a 19-foot eagle putt on the third hole and six birdies.

“I wanted to birdie the last three holes to shoot 59,” said Kirk, who also has won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, including the 2020 King & Bear Classic. “It was a bummer not to make it on the last. I felt like I deserved the birdie at 18 after hitting such a great wedge, but I misread the (12 foot) putt. I definitely won’t let that put a damper on a really good day.

“ … Anybody who makes it to the PGA Tour is an unbelievable player. No doubt about that. I am definitely not doubting any of the young talent out here. They hit it a lot farther than me and they play with a lot more confidence.”

Rookie Ryan Gerard, a Monday qualifier, sank a 22-foot eagle putt on the third hole and added six birdies in a 63 that put him two shots back in a tie for third with Ben Taylor of England, who made the last two of his seven birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 in a 64.

Eric Cole of Palm Springs, whose mother is former LPGA star Laura Baugh, birdied two of the last four holes to cap a 66 and is one more behind in a tie for fifth with Ben Martin, who made four of his seven birdies on the back nine in a 64, and Brice Garnett, who had three birdies in a row early on the back nine in a bogey-free 64.

Tyler Duncan made five birdies against two bogies as he posted a second straight 67 and is four down in a tie for eighth with Tano Goyo of Argentina, a seven-time winner as a pro, who made three of his five birdies down the stretch in a 66.

Two-time major champion Zach Johnson collected seven birdies in a 67 and is five shots back in a big tie for 10th with Byeong Hun An of South Korea, who made a 22-foot eagle putt on the third hole and added four birdies in a 65; Matt Wallace of England, who had bogeys on his first two holes but rallied for a 68; Adam Schenk, who had two birdies on each nine in a 68; Chesson Hadley, who made seven birdies in a 66, and Carson Young, who had two birdies and two bogeys in a 70.

Defending champion Sepp Straka of Austria is tied for 22nd after a bogey-free 68, while 2020 champ Sungjae Im of South Korea shot 71 and is tied for 28th, and Padraig Harrington of Ireland, the winner 2005 and 2015, is tied for 48th after a 68.

Four other former Honda champions missed the cut: Matt Kuchar (2002) by three strokes at 75-69—144; Luke Donald of England (2006) by six shots at 71-76—147; Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia (2011) by eight at 71-78—149, and Camilo Villlegas of Colombia by 10 at 80-71—151.

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