K.J. Choi is in his 15th year on the PGA Tour, yet he’s playing for just the fourth time in the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing.
He has three children, after all, so his ritual for many years has been to return home for some family time following the Masters.
But Choi returned to Harbour Town Golf Links in 2010 for the first time in nine years and came back again last year, and the South Korean sounds and is playing like a man who will be returning to Hilton Head Island for many years to come.
Choi posted a 4-under-par 67 Friday morning in trying conditions to take the lead in a Heritage tournament that has been beset by a spring storm that allowed only half the field to finish the second round and may persist a while.
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Choi is at 5-under 137 and has a two-shot lead over first-round co-leader Scott Langley, Luke Donald and Billy Hurley among players who have completed the second round.
“I’m really happy I’m in the tournament,” Choi said in broken English. “… The last three or four years I’m changing. After the Masters I stop here, because the golf course is very generous. I love this course.”
Robert Allenby birdied the first two holes of the five he completed Friday and is second, according to par, at 4 under. He’s one of 65 players who will attempt to complete their second rounds beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
Bo Van Pelt and Ben Martin are 3 under through just a few second-round holes each, and Nicholas Thompson, Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel are the only three players among eight tied for eighth at 2 under who have completed 36 holes.
Play was suspended at nearly 3 p.m. and never resumed.
“It’s not fun when it’s blowing 20 miles and hour every different direction and it’s raining at the same time,” Allenby said. “It was getting very wet. I mean, the water was running down the back of my shirt, and you know where that ends up. That’s when I know it’s time to get out of there.”
Heavy rain was expected to continue to saturate the course overnight, there’s at least a 50 percent chance of rain both Saturday and Sunday, and winds are expected to remain about 20 mph with stronger gusts throughout the weekend.
“That was a hard round of golf,” said William McGirt, a first-round co-leader who shot a 76 Friday to fall into a tie for 24th against par at even-par 142.
Choi is seeking his ninth PGA Tour win, with the last being the 2011 Players Championship. He made six birdies to two bogeys Friday. He chipped in from 28 feet and holed birdie putts of 25, 23 and 14 feet, but his bogeys came on a three-putt and a missed 4-footer. “More practice inside 5 feet,” he said.
Choi has finished 41st and 18th in his last two visits to Harbour Town, and his only sub-70 round before Friday was a 64 in the opening round in 2010. He expounded on what he has come to like about Harbour Town through an interpreter.
“If you just hit it beneath the trees it’s a good course to play,” Choi said. “It has very small targets and this course is working well for me, because I like those situations.”
Donald has played Harbour Town about as well as anyone who doesn’t have a tartan jacket. He has two runner-ups and two third-place finishes in the past five years.
Twenty of his last 21 rounds at Harbour Town have been par or better, and he’s at it again this year. Donald was 3-over par through 11 holes in the first round, but he made four birdies on his final seven holes Thursday and played a solid round with three birdies and a bogey on Friday to play his last 25 holes 6 under.
“I hit 15 greens [in regulation] today and that’s good, solid golf in these conditions,” Donald said. “If I got a little hotter with the putter it could have been really special. But still a very solid round, and I’m glad I’m done.”
Those who played well among the half of the field that finished Friday felt fortunate. “It’s nice to get that good draw sometimes,” Donald said. “Usually it evens itself out over the course of a year. But it looks like I’m on the right side of the draw this week.”
The delay came three holes too late for Matt Kuchar, who held a share of the 18-hole lead at 5 under with McGirt and second-year tour member Scott Langley. Kuchar was still 5 under through his first three holes but made double bogeys on the fourth and six holes to fall back into a tie for 16th at 1 under with 12 holes remaining in his second round.
He hit his tee shot into water fronting near the green on the par-3 fourth, and he needed two shots off the tee on the par-4 sixth after hitting his first well right. Kuchar struggled in the rain, hitting just 1-of-5 fairways and 2-of-6 greens in regulation.
Langley, meanwhile, dropped back to even par through 12 holes Friday but rallied with three birdies in his final six holes, including his final two.
“I just try to hang my hat on never giving up and always fighting and grinding, and today was one of those days,” Langley said.
It appears the remainder of the week will require more of those days.
“I play 30-some odd golf tournaments a year and sometimes it rains, sometimes it’s windy, sometimes it’s nice,” said Brian Harman, who is 2 under through his five holes in the second round. “You just go out and do your best and see what happens.”