BY TRAVIS DAVID
FORT WORTH, Texas — There’s an old adage, “it’s not how your start, but how you finish”.
Harold Varner III can attest to just that.
To say the co-leader after 18 holes of play at the Charles Schwab Classic had a bad start to his second round Friday morning would be an understatement. Varner’s opening tee shot on the 408-yard Par 4 No. 10 landed on a wooden bridge near the fairway. He was forced to take a drop (1-stroke penalty) and ended up carding a triple-bogey. Needless to say, he was not the co-leader of the tournament heading into his second hole of the day.
“Not the start I wanted, but that is part of golf,” Varner was quoted after his round. “If I would have instead tripled the last hole, my score would have added up to the same.”
Through the first two rounds, the field of 148 carded a combined 45 birdies, 31 bogeys and three double-bogeys on the hole. Varner’s triple on Friday marked the only “other” score for the hole.
But he bounced back in a big way on his way to making history during his round. Varner carded birdies on three of his next six holes and five of his last six to finish with a round of 66. According to stats provided by PGA.com, since 2003 a total of 691 golfers have started their round with a triple-bogey or worse — Varner’s 66 on Friday was the lowest score of those rounds.
His two-day total of 11-under-par (129) keeps him atop the leaderboard — one stroke ahead of Jordan Spieth.
If Varner can keep his lead over the next two days it would be his first PGA Tourn win in 129 career starts.
Spieth, who is searching for his first tour win since claiming The Open Championship in 2017, had a noteworthy day on Friday as well.
For just the ninth time in his PGA Tour career, he four-putted on a hole. After lagging his 30-plus foot birdie putt on No. 3 to just inside three feet, Spieth missed two consecutive putts for a double-bogey.
Like Varner, Spieth also recovered nicely. After a bogey on No. 4, the three-time major winner picked up birdies on No. 5 and No. 6. He concluded his round of 65 (5-under-par) with three straight pars.
Also knocking at the door is Brycen DeChambeau who enters play on Saturday tied with Spieth at 10-under-par.
A trio of golfers, including Rory Mcllroy, are tied for fourth at 9-under. Mcllroy carded the low score of the day with a 63, which is tied for the lowest round of the tournament — matching Varner and Justin Rose’s scores from Friday.
Rose struggled on Saturday and finished with a 1-under-par 69 to head into Saturday’s third round tied for eighth with four other players including Justin Thomas.
Whatever happens over the next two days in a star-studded field at the top, a new champion will be crowned.
Defending tournament champion Kevin Na needed to sink a lengthy putt for birdie on his final hole on Friday to make the cut (-2). Na’s putt curled around behind the hole as he settled for a disappointing tap-in for par, ending his tournament.
Phil Mickelson also missed the cut with a score of E for his two rounds.
Jhonattan Vegas had a rough round on Friday as well, but he came through in the clutch on the 18th. Needing a birdie to finish on the cutline, Vegas sank a lengthy putt on his final hole from just inside the fringe as he finished as one of 21 players at -2 for the tournament.
The clutch birdie capped off a disappointing round of 74 (+4) after starting his round tied for third.
Just as the tournament did on Thursday, and will do so on Saturday and Sunday, the 8:46 a.m. tee time was left vacant for a moment of silence for George Floyd.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monohan said the vacant tee time “serves as a reminder for the efforts to end systemic issues of racial and social injustices.”
Varner, who is one of four African Americans in the field, said “it’s pretty cool that the Tour is doing this.”