Saturday, May 19, 2018

Rookie Stefani stays atop Tampa Bay Championship

PALM HARBOR — By his own admission, Shawn Stefani didn't hit the ball very well in Friday's second round of the Tampa Bay Championship. But when it came to getting the ball in the hole, he did just fine.

Stefani, the first-round leader, teed off in the morning and shot 1-under 70 for a two-day total of 7-under 135. That was one shot better than Adam Scott and K.J. Choi and two shots ahead of Harris English, Brian Harman, Peter Tomasulo and Jason Dufner.

Sergio Garcia was lingering three shots back at 4 under. World Match Play Championship winner Matt Kuchar was five back.

"Today was a little bit of a struggle with ball-striking," Stefani said. "I didn't really drive it super great. Didn't hit some of the best iron shots. But I scrambled well, and I putted great."

Stefani, a rookie, had three birdies and two bogeys in his second round. He needed only 27 putts on the Copperhead Course, the same as Thursday.

He said the difference was an adjustment on the practice green before the tournament. He moved his hands forward slightly to get the ball rolling on a better line. The result is his first two-round lead of a PGA Tour event and a pairing with Scott in the final group today.

"All year I've been playing pretty well, but the putting has not been there," said Stefani, whose best finish this season was a tie for 39th last week in Puerto Rico. "I made one little adjustment in the beginning of the week and it's really made a big difference. I'm not even trying to make putts right now, I'm trying to hit good putts. So far, the last few days, they've gone in."

As hot as Stefani is, Scott might be hotter. He tied for third last week at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral. Friday's round of 66 featured five birdies and no bogeys.

"To go bogey-free anywhere is good, I think here it's particularly good," Scott said. "It's quite a tricky golf course and mistakes are easily made. I chipped away at it and got myself in contention for the weekend."

Aside from Scott, Choi might be the most dangerous contender. He is a two-time winner on the Copperhead Course (2002, '06) and shot 67 Friday.

"Today I drove the ball very well," Choi said. "This is the second week for me using the claw-putter grip. I've been very impressed so far."

Dufner (66) made the biggest move. He went from even, tied for 26th, to tied for fourth and squarely in the hunt. He was joined by English and Harman, who remained in contention after solid first rounds.

"I had the speed going again today," English said. "I hit a lot of greens and played the par 3s really well. All around, it was pretty good out there."

But they will all be chasing Stefani. The Houston-area native doesn't know if his nerves will hold up because he has never been a second-round leader. He has won on the college and professional level and won twice on the Tour in 2012 to earn entry to the big leagues. He'll try to use that as motivation.

"This is the PGA Tour, it's no longer the Tour," Stefani said. "No discount to the players on that tour, but it's a lot different out here."


Shawn Stefani 65 70 135 -7

Adam Scott 70 66 136 -6

K.J. Choi 69 67 136 -6

Harris English 68 69 137 -5

Brian Harman 67 70 137 -5

Jason Dufner 71 66 137 -5

Peter Tomasulo 69 68 137 -5

Tag Ridings 68 70 138 -4

Sergio Garcia 71 67 138 -4


Matt Kuchar 72 68 140 -2

Jim Furyk 72 69 141 -1

Vijay Singh 69 73 142 E

Full scores, pairings 3C

Today: Play begins 8:05 a.m.

TV: 1 p.m, Golf Channel; 3, Ch. 8

Weather: Low 50s in early morning, warming to mid 70s