SHANGHAI (Reuters) – American Kevin Kisner continued his birdie barrage to take a two-shot halfway lead at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where stronger winds in China on Friday contributed to a frustrating day for a rusty Jordan Spieth and poorly Rory McIlroy.
While Kisner fired a bogey-free six-under-par 66 for a 14-under total, world number two Spieth could only muster a level par 72 to sit on four-under alongside McIlroy, who was still feeling the after effects of a bout of food poisoning.
The Northern Irishman, who said he had lost 10 pounds (4.5 kgs) because of the ailment, struggled again with his short game as he mixed four bogeys with four birdies in his round of 72.
The world number three’s frustrations boiled over with a rushed three-putt bogey on the 16th and he found water on the last with his approach but did well to get up and down for a par five.
“It wasn’t a great day today. I need to shoot a really good score over the weekend to give myself a chance. Hopefully, I can go out tomorrow and shoot something a little better and feel a bit better,” the four-times major winner said.
The 31-year-old Kisner, playing in China for the first time, had no such troubles as he followed up his opening 64 with another rash of red numbers at the Sheshan International Golf Course.
The South Carolina native was two clear of Scotland’s Russell Knox, who managed a best-of-the day 65.
Kisner had been nursing a back ailment following the long flight but put himself in pole position for a first PGA Tour title after three painful playoff defeats this year.
“It’s beyond my expectations,” said the American world number 34. “I had no expectations coming in, so it’s been good.
“I made a couple of long putts for par today to keep the no bogey streak going. I’m sure I’ll run into some problems sooner or later. I just hope I can keep holing those putts for par and keep the pedal down.”
First round leader Branden Grace of South Africa was alone in third after a one-under 71, while local fans were given plenty of reason to cheer by the form of 20-year-old Li Haotong.
Li fired a 69 that included a bogey five at his last following a wild approach into the water, to share fourth with American Patrick Reed (70) at nine-under 135.
Big-hitting Dustin Johnson, the 2013 champion, closed with three straight birdies for a 71 to share sixth with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (66) and Hunter Mahan (68).
Further down the field, Spieth, the PGA Tour player-of-the-year after winning the Masters and U.S. Open, continued to work on his takeaway before shots during his round in Shanghai as he endured a mixed day.
Spieth is playing his first strokeplay tournament since winning the Tour Championship in September and his supreme putting touch was understandably absent.
Three straight bogeys from the 11th dropped him down the field but a birdie four at the 14th and another at the par-five last left him in a share of 27th alongside Luke Donald (69), Martin Kaymer (71) and Rickie Fowler (72).
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O’Brien)