Harold Varner III has never won on the PGA Tour and had never even held a 36-hole lead, until now.
Varner made a triple-bogey 7 on his first hole of the day, No. 10, but then rallied to shoot 4-under-par 66 and take a one-stroke lead over Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis after two rounds of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
The first event since the PGA Tour was shut down in March because of the Coronavirus pandemic is being played without spectators on the course because of social distancing guidelines.
“Obviously not the start I wanted, but it’s just a part of golf,” said Varner, whose only pro victory came in the 2016 Australian PGA Championship. “After making the triple I was just fighting for my life. But I made some putts to get back to even pretty quickly and just went from there.
“I tripled hole 10, and then on 12 I had like a three-footer for birdie, so you’re starting to just get some momentum. I just gave myself so many looks. … It’s a great opportunity going into the weekend.”
Varner bounced back from his disastrous start by making birdies on the 12th, 13th and 16th holes, made a bogey at No. 18, and then rattled off five birdies on his last six holes to shoot 5-under 30 on the front nine to finish 36 holes at 11-under 129.
Spieth overcame a four-putt double-bogey 6 on the third hole and a bogey on the fourth by making two of his eight birdies right after that to record his second consecutive 65. His last three putts at No. 3 came from three feet or closer.
“I played a really, really solid round of golf with a kind of 20-minute hiccup for a couple holes,” said Spieth, who won at Colonial in 2016. “With eight birdies around this place, it’s nothing to complain about. I’m obviously very pleased with the position I’m in after two rounds.
“There wasn’t a huge swing of emotions. I stayed calm. I was just trying to hit each shot where it needed to go to make the best score … and actually came out of it with some momentum.”
Said DeChambeau, who carded three birdies on the back nine and also posted a second straight 65, said: “I didn’t get off to the start I usually do here; I usually birdie the first two holes. But I made up for it with some good ball-striking and made some putts. I was bogey-free and it’s hard to do that around here. It was fun.”
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland sank a 23-foot eagle putt on the first hole to highlight a 63 that was the low score of the day and is two back in a tie for fourth with Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, who had a 66, and Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, who came in at 67.
Fourth-ranked Justin Thomas posted a 68 and is three behind in a tie for seventh with first-round co-leader Justin Rose of England, who sank a five-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 69, Gary Woodland (67), Branden Grace of South Africa (66) and Daniel Berger (67).
Third-ranked Brooks Koepka is tied for 25th after a 68, while No. 17 Patrick Reed shot 69 and is tied for 35th.
Defending champion Kevin Na of Diamond Bar finished at 72-67—139 to miss the cut by two strokes, while two-time Colonial winner Phil Mickelson and second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain both totaled 69-71—140 to miss by three.
Fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson carded a score of 71-71—142 and No. 9 Webb Simpson finished at 73-69—142, both missing the weekend by five shots.
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