HONOLULU (AP) Tim Clark knew he was hitting the ball well. Put him on a golf course more suited to his game, and it showed for two days at the Sony Open.
Clark kept the ball in play on the tight fairways of Waialae, took advantage of dry conditions that allow for more roll, and posted his second straight round of 5-under 65 on Friday for a share of the lead with Troy Merritt among the early starters.
Merritt had a 64 to join Clark at 10-under 130.
Clark finished his round with a 304-yard tee shot that set up a two-putt birdie on the par-5 ninth hole. Hitting 300-yard drives on the PGA Tour is not a big deal these days, but it was for Clark, who considers himself one of the shortest hitters in golf.
It was a testament to how he is feeling, tiny change in his swing to set up taller over the ball, and the firm fairways.
And he wasn’t complaining.
”It’s obviously very tight off the tee, and I like to drive it here a lot,” Clark said. ”And when it’s firm like that, I’m getting a lot of run, so I’m hitting it farther than I normally do. Hitting driver and being aggressive gives me shorter clubs in than most of my opponents, where most courses they’re 20 and 30 by me.”
Last week at Kapalua was not one of those courses, along with the fact it was soft on the Plantation course, which Clark found a bit of a mystery because it never rained during the week. He liked the way he was swinging the club, even though he finished 12 shots behind.
”I hit the ball great last week,” Clark said. ”I could tell I was hitting it good. I knew coming to a course that I loved would be nice.”
Russell Knox, who learned to swing harder when got on the PGA Tour, had five birdies in a tidy round of 65 and was one shot behind.
Paul Casey, Webb Simpson and Camilo Villegas were among the late starters on a day of sunshine and some ”vog” – volcanic ash in the air that occurs without the typical trade winds blowing for several day – though there was no wind and not much resistance at Waialae.
Defending champion Jimmy Walker had another 66 – his 15th consecutive round in the 60s in Hawaii – and was in the group two shots behind the early leaders that included 2010 Sony Open winner Ryan Palmer, who had a 63.
The cut looked as though it would be 2-under 138 with so few players running into trouble.
Merritt has gone back to the swing he used so well at Boise State, when he was releasing the club and hitting more a draw. He had gone to a fade in recent years, and felt like a change was in order. While this is the first full-field event of the year – and his first competition in two months – he is far from rusty. Merritt said he played about 500 holes in Arizona before coming across the Pacific to start his 2015 season.
Off the course, he feels at peace. He has had two sons the last few years, along with moving.
”We’ve had a major life change every year I’ve been professional. This year will be the first year – we’re hopeful – we don’t have one,” Merritt said. ”I’m talking about moving thousands of miles, a couple new kids over the years, moving again, and just a lot of headaches off the course, and finally we’re just where we need to be. I’ve found peace on and off the golf course, which is good.”
Knox is another guy who is increasingly comfortable. The Scot has taken a long road to the big leagues, starting with college golf at Jacksonville University, and then have to Monday qualify to get his starts on the Nationwide Tour. Each year brings more belief he can win, and it doesn’t matter the size of the golf course. He lost in a four-man playoff last year at the Honda Classic that featured Rory McIlroy and was won by Russell Henley.
Still, any course that requires accuracy off the tee is going to help. It’s just never been a big help at Waialae.
”I’ve never made the cut here, so this is a huge achievement for me,” Knox said. ”I love it here. On paper, it should fit my game nicely, and the last three years it has not. … I told my wife if we missed the cut, I was probably never coming back. It was great that I made the cut because I love this course.”