One record-tying round of eight-under-par 63 was matched by another as Xander Schauffele of the USA supplanted Sepp Straka of Austria atop the leaderboard during Friday’s second round of the men’s Olympic golf competition at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
While Schauffele appears headed to a one-stroke lead over Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, two afternoon weather delays cut short an official conclusion to the day, stranding 16 players who now must complete their round Saturday at 7:45am local time.
Fortunate for Schauffele and Ortiz, they were in the last two groupings to complete their round.
So, as it currently stands, Schauffele leads the chase for Olympic gold at 11-under-par 131 following a round that featured two eagles and six birdies, including three straight to finish his round. In doing so, he equalled the Olympic record that was established in golf’s return at the 2016 Rio Olympics and matched Thursday by Straka.
Ortiz, who took the lead earlier in the day at 10-under on the strength of an eagle two at the shortened 294-yard 6th hole which Schauffele also eagled, finished with a second round of 67. Three players are two shots further back with completed second rounds – Straka (71), Mito Pereira of Chile (65) and Alex Noren of Sweden (67).
A more pressing question now is how the host country’s great hope, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, will finish. He, too, is eight-under par with two holes remaining on a round that currently stands at six-under par.
“I think I played well today even though it suspended,” Matsuyama said. “I will tee off early in the morning tomorrow so I will get myself well-prepared and hopefully I can do my best to keep my game going again tomorrow.”
Still, the day’s headline belonged to Schauffele, who was glad to finish but wished he could have kept going.
“I just kind got in a nice flow there at the end,” Schauffele said. “Kind of one of those situations where I wish I could play some more holes. It was nice to sort of make that last putt on 18 before the they blew that horn.”
He had just made his eagle and was on the par-3 7th when play was first suspended, then bogeyed the hole once play resumed two hours later.
“So I bogeyed my first hole coming out of the delay, wasn't in a great spot and was able to make a birdie quickly right after to sort of settle the ship,” said Schauffele, who then shot a five-under 30 on the back nine. “So yeah, I was happy with how I finished.”
Ortiz, meanwhile, finds himself well within striking distance of medal contention heading into the weekend.
“I've learned that it's much easier from the fairway,” the Mexican said, noting the difficulty of the thick rough. “I think when you're in the fairway you're able to be aggressive with the greens being so soft and the greens being this perfect it's great to once you start getting the right reads, it's easy to make putts. I feel like I'm in good position and I like where I stand.”
Among those moving into contention include Irish teammates Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy, whose rounds of 65 and 66 put them at seven-under-par 135, catching Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand (71).
Cam Smith is the best of the two-strong Aussie contingent after the Queenslander signed for a four-under round of 67 on Friday.
Our top ranked men’s player was even par after day one and could have been in a better spot than the share of 20th he currently finds himself in following a double bogey at the par-4 18th.
“I was six-under playing the last and probably pretty fair to say I left a few shots out there with that. So, I know my game's there, I just need to do much of the same over the weekend and hopefully the putts drop,” Smith said.
“I mean it was pretty frustrating day as it was, I felt like I did a lot of good stuff today and didn't get the most out of my round and then to finish like that is kind of a bit crappy.”
Playing alongside Matsuyama, Marc Leishman is well back in a share of 51st.
The Victorian has two holes to play in his second round on Saturday morning, when he will hope to improve on his one-over tournament total and get back into medal contention by joining the birdie fest at Kasumigaseki.
Now it’s a matter of waiting for the second round to conclude before resuming as intended … provided, that is, the weather doesn’t further disrupt the schedule as it has the first two days.
- Additional reporting by Jimmy Emanuel