DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — After two straight top-10 finishes at the AT&T Classic, Jonathan Byrd is poised to win the suburban Atlanta tournament.
He had his first premonition of an AT&T victory after missing the cut in his first start six years ago.
“I remember telling my wife as we were driving out that I’m going to win this tournament because I like it so much,” Byrd said. “It’s just a place I feel good on. Doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week, but I enjoy playing this golf tournament.”
Byrd took advantage of soft fairways and receptive greens at TPC Sugarloaf on Friday, shooting his second straight 6-under 66 to take a three-stroke lead in the AT&T Classic.
A former Clemson standout who lives in the coastal Georgia town of St. Simons Island, Byrd has played Sugarloaf several times.
“The tough driving holes tend to suit my eye,” Byrd said. “And I feel like I hit a lot of greens here, and I feel like I putt well. That’s usually a pretty good formula for good play.”
When the second round began, Byrd shared the lead with Kenny Perry, Ryan Palmer and two others, but conditions hardly compared to those of Thursday, when the course was drenched with over an inch of rain.
No precipitation fell in the second round, but overcast conditions kept the sun from drying off the fairways and greens and making the course play faster.
Perry and Palmer shot 69s to drop into a tie for second. Parker McLachlin, another first-round leader, shot a 70 to drop into a three-way tie for fourth with Charles Howell III (69) and David Toms (69) at 8 under.
“I was telling people that I’ve never played 18 holes when it rained on me from the first shot to the last shot,” Perry said. “It never stopped. I spent seven hours on the round yesterday and got back to the room around 8. Quick bite to eat, jump back up, and I told Joe Ogilvie and Dean Wilson I was tired today. I mean the first six holes I was dragging.”
Perry, who teed off at 8 a.m., was pleased with his round, but he knew afternoon conditions would create easier scoring opportunities as the day wore on.
Not that Perry would complain after playing his entire first round in the rain. He has restored some confidence to enter the third round at 9 under, a major improvement after an embarrassing 81 in the final round last week at The Players Championship.
“I played good last week,” Perry said. “I just got caught in a situation where it was very difficult on Sunday. We played in 30 mph winds on a golf course that was set up in major championship form, and I just didn’t handle it very well. I mean, I hit one really bad, horrible, horrible golf shot when I scalded out of the bunker at 15 and made triple. But I take a lot from last week.”
Perry’s momentum started to flow on Friday when he rolled in a 30-footer for birdie.
“It probably had 8 feet of break in it,” he said. “When that went in, it kind of woke me up, and I played really nicely from then on.”
Palmer recovered from a double bogey at the par-4 fifth, dropping him to 4 under, before starting the back nine with an eagle on the 10th, a par 5. The turnaround helped Palmer make just his second cut in five starts this year.
Defending champion Zach Johnson (70) and Sugarloaf resident Stewart Cink (71) were seven strokes back at 5 under.
Byrd, who finished sixth in 2006 and tied for ninth in ’07, was in the final group two years ago when Phil Mickelson finished the tournament a staggering 28 under.
Mickelson’s penchant for attacking a course ripe for low scores impressed Byrd.
“I watched him just kind of stay aggressive, stay aggressive, stay aggressive, and he kept making birdies,” Byrd said. “And I just kept telling myself that today. It’s windy, but the greens are soft, so I’ve got to keep trying to hit it close and keep trying to make birdies.”
Byrd was upset with himself for a mental lapse that led to a three-putt at the par-5 sixth. It marked the only hole he played over par in the second round and just his second of the tournament.
“You just can’t give away shots in a PGA Tour event with guys that are this good,” Byrd said. “And that was just a pure giveaway. You do that in junior golf. You don’t do that on the PGA Tour, but it happened and it might motivate me to play better.”
Divots: One week after finishing second to Sergio Garcia and earning over $1 million at the Players, Paul Goydos missed the cut by a stroke at 1 over. … Bubba Watson and Justin Bolli tied Byrd for low round of the day. On his last three holes, Bolli shot birdie, birdie, eagle. … Retief Goosen played bogey-free until his approach at No. 9 went too far right. Finishing with a 68 that tied him for 29th, Goosen chipped to within 2 feet for just his second bogey of the tournament. … With a 70, Johnson has 10 consecutive sub-par rounds at TPC Sugarloaf. … Cink is going for his seventh top-10 finish in 12 starts this year. … Byrd and Perry, the final twosome, have a 1:15 p.m. tee time Saturday.