HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Jerry Kelly routinely overcomes his own quirky emotions to excel on the PGA Tour. So he’s not going to let a spring cold stand in his way at the Verizon Heritage.
Kelly, who shot a 63 in the opening round, fought off the sniffles and stuffiness for a 70 on Friday. He was overtaken by Ernie Els’ second straight 65 but knows things could’ve been much, much worse. Kelly, who didn’t tee off until after Els was just about through blistering Harbour Town Golf Links, quickly fell further behind with bogeys on the third and fourth holes.
He rebounded, though, to get within three shots of the top.
“Being 2 over through the easiest holes on the entire golf course, it could’ve been a rough day today,” Kelly said. “But really, I hung in there.”
And that’s not always been Kelly’s strong suit.
The 40-year-old veteran is known as much for animated gestures and grimaces as for solid golf. Kelly says he’s worked hard not obsess over mistakes.
Kelly called the second round a “bad physical and a bad mental day” for him.
“To be able to come through and get under par no problem at a place like Harbour Town says a lot to the stability of my mental state,” Kelly said.
He’ll need all that and more to overtake Els, who’s looked like the Big Easy of old with his play here the first two rounds.
Els’ 12-under 130 is a stroke off the tournament’s halfway record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1975 and matched by Phil Mickelson in 2002.
Els hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in nearly three years and has struggled since knee surgery in 2005 to rediscover the form that won three majors.
Els got past Kelly with a stretch of four birdies over the last five holes. When Els tapped in his last birdie on No. 9, he was five strokes clear of the field.
The 37-year-old South African says he’s returned to his usual laid-back style.
“This week, I’ve tried to play the way I can play, and if I’m going to make a mistake, then I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world,” he said.
Zach Johnson continued his Masters victory tour, once again celebrated by Harbour Town crowds. Johnson’s game picked up some, too, with a 68 that moved him to 4 under.
Johnson is the first Masters winner to play the Verizon Heritage since Vijay Singh in 2000. And last week’s success was never far away. Johnson got a champion’s embrace from his father-in-law, who wasn’t at Augusta National, soon after the round ended.
“It’s awesome. It’s very flattering,” Johnson said. “At the same time, I think the best thing for me after a week like that, the emotional drain, is to get back inside the ropes. … I think this is probably the best thing for me.”
Kelly’s game has improved the past few weeks. After missing cuts in five of his first seven events, Kelly’s posted a pair of top 10s — tied for ninth at the Arnold Palmer Invitation; and tied for fifth last week at the Masters.
Kelly, who’ll be paired with Els, isn’t concerned who’s ahead of him. “Anybody can play well and anybody can play poorly,” Kelly said. “It’s not a matter of, ‘OK, he’s got his game together. He’s going to shoot five, six, seven-under a day.’ I don’t think that’s the case.”
Not if Kelly hasn’t any say in it.
When asked if he’d get past his illness, Kelly shot back, “No, I think I’m just going to get on a plan and go home. I’m leaving. I don’t have a chance.”
Kelly said he “overmedicated myself a little bit.”
“I do that with other things sometimes, too, and it works out OK in the end.”