Jordan Spieth's rally is a welcome surprise at US PGA Championship

Jordan Spieth
and Dustin Johnson put together second rounds at the US PGA Championship
at Bethpage on Friday that came with a collective message: don't forget about us.
While everyone was ready to proclaim the era of Brooks Koepka following his breathtaking first round 63, two more Americans who have done some things over the last few years walked the fairways together and conjured up deeds that declared their determination to differ.
While Johnson's 67 to move to four under par was broadly in line with expectations given he's the world No 1 and brawny Bethpage is right up his alley, Spieth's 66 to progress to five under was a terrific surprise.
'I felt I had good control of my game and it was nice to roll in some putts,' said the 25-year-old.
Golfers missing the cut by miles is not usually the signal for a laugh-out-loud remark but trust the erudite Englishman Eddie Pepperell to break the mould. Asked about his experience at Bethpage following rounds of 76 and 75, the 28-year-old Oxfordshire golfer replied: 'If someone had given me a golf buggy to ride around in, I'd have driven to the clubhouse.'
It is not surprising that the man who was given a buggy to drive around in simply made up the numbers. Yes, John Daly, who shot rounds of 75 and 76, is entitled to enormous sympathy for his chronic osteoarthritis. However, following all the deserved criticism, the PGA of America have hopefully got the message it does not entitle him to a place in the field.
It is often remarked that Americans have no appreciation of irony. No surprise, therefore, to see hundreds of New Yorkers, who preferred a morning stroll to the golf in nearby Oyster Bay, taking photographs of a boat belonging to Tiger Woods that just happens to go by the name of 'Privacy'. 
'I made some good par putts on my front nine to keep the momentum going and then took advantage when I had birdie chances.'
It still wasn't the best round of the morning wave, mind. That belonged to Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, who bounced back wonderfully from his opening 75 by taking 10 strokes fewer on day two to move up around 95 places and stand on level par for the event.
Spieth hasn't managed so much as a top-20 finish all year and has fallen all the way to 39th in the world. With this course offering such an advantage to men who hit the fairway, it seemed the last place for a golfer ranked outside the top 200 in strokes gained in driving this season.
The Texan made light of it all, however, befitting a man who won three majors before his 23rd birthday. As ever, though, when he's playing well, it was his putting that most caught the eye, and his bewildering ability to master the most difficult skill in the sport — holing putts outside 20ft.
Here, the total length of putts he holed came to 140ft, and he needed just 23 putts in all. That usually gets the job done, doesn't it?
And so a tournament that began with all eyes on Tiger Woods' pursuit of history moves into the weekend with the prospect of a career Grand Slam — which hasn't been witnessed since Tiger himself completed it in 2000 — up for discussion.
Of course, it remains to be seen how a man who hasn't been in contention to win anywhere for 10 months copes with the weekend at a major played in noisy New York with such a goal on the line. But, at the very least, it's good to see solid evidence that Spieth is on the way back.
'I'm trying to think less when I'm on the course and react more, and the patience required to play this course fits in with what I'm trying to do,' he explained.
As for Johnson, he was threatening to do a Koepka when he muscled his way to four birdies in a six hole stretch over the more difficult back nine — his opening half on this occasion.
But a missed par putt from 6ft at the 18th, following a brilliant chip from thick rough, stalled his momentum at exactly the wrong moment, given the inviting nature of the opening holes.
He would play his back nine in 35 strokes but remained bullish about his chances.
'If I strike the ball as well over the weekend and keep giving myself plenty of chances for birdies, then I'm going to have the opportunity to win,' said the 35-year-old, who won his only major at the US Open in 2016.
Spieth was the clubhouse leader by one stroke over Johnson and another American, Daniel Berger, as Koepka — with a two stroke advantage at that stage — began his second round.
Fitzpatrick got to six under for his round after a spell of four birdies in a row at one point. It looked as if the mighty Black course was about to fall victim to the indignity of another 63, but a rare three-putt from the 24- year-old at the 5th put the brakes on.
'It sounds like a massive difference from the first day but the only real one was that I made a few putts whereas on Thursday I made nothing,' he said. 'I like courses like this one, where you have to put the ball in the fairway. I'm looking forward to the weekend and the chance to make further progress.'
Paul Casey followed up his level par opening round with a 71 to stand on one over, the same mark as former Masters Champion Danny Willett.
One of the more startling performances came from former US PGA Champion Rich Beem, who is better known these days as an analyst for Sky Sports.
Over the back nine, he showed he is still a player, coming home in a fabulous 30 strokes for a four over par total that meant an anxious afternoon spent wondering if he would make the halfway cut.
Another who recovered manfully was New Zealander Danny Lee, who shot 64 on Thursday. He showed what a difference overnight makes by coming out and needing 41 strokes for his front nine alone, before bouncing back to come home for a 74.

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