Hurley shoots 63, takes 1-stroke Classic lead
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — For Billy Hurley III, nothing he’ll do in golf could ever top his driving a Navy ship through the Suez Canal, but he won’t forget shooting a 7-under-par 63 on the Fourth of July at the Greenbrier Classic, either.
The U.S. Naval Academy graduate racked up seven birdies without a bogey Friday to finish with a 9-under-par 131 for 36 holes. That puts him one stroke ahead of Chris Stroud, part of his threesome, and Kevin Chappell.
The 63 is the lowest round of Hurley’s PGA Tour career and gives him his first lead after the second (or any) round. After losing his Tour card in 2012 and regaining it through the Web.com Tour last season, he is having a nice season — 14 made cuts in 20 events, with an No. 80 ranking in the FedExCup standings.
As the only military academy graduate on the Tour, Hurley has a different appreciation for the holiday.
“You know, anytime you play good, it’s great, right?” he said. “But certainly, you know, there are special days of the year for our country, and having served our country and being the only person playing this week who has served, only military veteran on Tour, it adds something to it.
“Fourth of July has always been a special day for me just growing up, and kind of what it means for our independence and that kind of stuff. So you know, it’s kind of pretty cool, I guess, to shoot 7 under on the Fourth of July.”
Playing the back nine first, Hurley’s first birdie came on the 14th, where he hit a 7-foot putt. He got it even closer on the 16th. He called it the shot of his day.
“I hit a nice fade 7-iron into that front right hole on 16, and hit it to about 2 feet.”
He hit a 17-footer to birdie the 17th, and then birdied No. 1. On the fourth, he didn’t need a putt — he chipped in from 29 feet. He followed that up with a 5-foot putt on the fifth and a 6-footer on the seventh.
He was about as efficient as can be asked in the 36 holes. He has hit 24 of 28 fairways and reached 25 of 36 greens in regulation. He needed just 51 putts, 23 on Friday.
Stroud, who began the day at 4 under and two strokes out of the lead, birdied four of his first five holes, including one on the difficult par-4 13th. He rolled in a 32-foot putt on that hole, and followed it with a 14-footer on the 14th.
After Stroud and Hurley made the turn, Hurley caught him on the fifth and passed him when Stroud bogeyed the sixth. That hole featured one of Stroud’s few putting errors, a 4-foot miss for par.
“Very happy with it, played beautifully,” Stroud said. “I definitely need to tighten up a little bit on my chipping, even though I got a lot up and down from the short side of the green. But my wedges really aren’t as sharp as I’d like them to be.”
Chappell enjoyed a bogey-free 65 to join Stroud at 132. The 27-year-old has just one bogey this week, and has gone 28 holes without one. He needed only 24 putts, chipping in from 35 yards on the par-3 15th.
The Old White TPC seems to appeal to Chappell more than most.
“You know, the course has a great flow to it,” he said. “Just at peace out there. All the running water and all the good scenery just puts me in a good spot.”
Troy Matteson, who fired a tournament-best 61, is alone in fourth at 133 after two rounds, two strokes behind Hurley. At this point, Hurley, Chappell, Stroud and Matteson are ahead in the race for four British Open spots.
Veterans Steve Stricker and Chris Kirk at tied for fifth at 134, along with Tour rookie Brice Garnett. Bubba Watson leads the pack of 135 scorers, which also includes Camilo Villegas, Jim Renner, Pat Perez and David Lingmerth.
On a cooler day with bright blue skies and gusty winds, the morning players scored well again and it resulted in a scrambled leaderboard. That started with defending champion Jonas Blixt, who went from a first-day 64 to 73, falling to 3 under. Much of the mob that tied for second with first-day 65s took a tumble.
Kirk was an exception, grinding out a 69. All the rest went even-par 70 or worse Friday — Danny Lee and Joe Durant 71, Jason Bohn 72 and James Hahn, D.A. Points and Patrick Rodgers 75.
Hahn, Points and Rodgers stuck around for today because the cut line rose to even-par 140. With 89 players making the cut, the field will be cut again to the top 70 and ties, with the new departures handed a check and credit for a made cut.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.