KAPALUA (Hawaii): South African Ernie Els continued to display mid-season form, blistering the Plantation Course for a second straight day on Friday en route to 17-under-par total and a new 36-hole record at the season-opening Mercedes Championships.
Els posted an eight-under 65, running his string of bogey-free holes to 28 and opening a three-stroke lead on Bob Estes, who shot a second consecutive seven-under-par 66 and is at 14-under-par.
South Korean K.J. Choi is in third place, five shots back at 12-under-par in the opening PGA Tour event of the season.
Els’ 17-under-par total eclipsed the old championship record of 16-under-par set by David Duval in 1999.
Duval went on to win the winners’ only tournament by nine strokes, the largest winning margin of the event since Gene Littler's 13-stroke victory in 1955.
“I felt like I was going to play well this week, come what may,” Els said.
“I felt like I was striking the ball well in the practice rounds and was going to have a good week.”
Els, the top-ranked player in the field at number three in the world, has shown none of the rust that some players exhibit at this stage of the season.
Through 36 holes, Els has recorded 13 birdies and three eagles against a lone double-bogey.
He is 11-under on the par-five holes.
“I was a little bit more aggressive than I was yesterday,” Els said of Friday’s second round.
“I took a couple of more holes on, some of the par-fours.”
Els is in familiar territory while holding a lead, and playing in relatively windy conditions.
At last year's Genuity Championship, he took an eight-stroke lead into the final round over the windswept Blue Monster course at Doral Resort and Spa.
Els shot an even-par 72 to hold off Tiger Woods.
“I never really liked playing in the wind,” Els said of the impending North winds that are expected to arrive on Saturday and lift the field scoring average into the 70s for the first time this week.
Though Estes recorded a second straight 66, the second round was highlighted by a chip-in on the seventh hole, which was a turning point to the round.
After hitting his tee shot on the par-four seventh, Estes initially thought his ball landed in the hazard that lines the right side of the fairway.
But a spectator found his ball and Estes was able to get it close to the green. – Reuters