HONOLULU — Nick Taylor pitched in for an eagle to get his round headed in the right direction, and he kept going until he finished with a good break and one last birdie for an 8-under-par 62 and a two-shot lead Friday in the Sony Open.
It's still packed near the top of the leaderboard, typical of this tournament, and former Baylor School and University of Georgia golfers Harris English and Keith Mitchell rallied in the second round after being unable to take advantage of a good opening day for scoring.
Taylor gave himself at least some separation from the crowd of contenders with a gap wedge shot that set up a six-foot birdie putt on No. 8, and then even his worst swing of the day turned into a birdie on the par-5 ninth at Waialae Country Club.
The 32-year-old Canadian hooked his tee shot toward the high netting of the driving range. The ball was so close to the knee-high boundary fence that his only hope was to play the shot left-handed. However, the netting that extends upward from the fence is considered a temporary immovable obstruction, so Taylor was given a free drop.
His iron shot put the ball about 50 yards short of the green and at a good angle, and then he clipped a wedge that left it two feet from the cup.
"It was a fortunate break," Taylor said. "Easily could have probably gone under the fence, but to bounce off and get a drop was a break, and it was nice to take advantage of it."
Taylor, who won at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year for his second PGA Tour win but first since 2014, was at 12-under 128 through 36 holes at Waialae.
Five players were two shots behind, a group that was decidedly Southern for the second leg of the PGA Tour's Hawaii swing: Stewart Cink (63), Russell Henley (64), Chris Kirk (65), Webb Simpson (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).
Fourteen players were separated by three shots going into the weekend.
Attribute that to an ideal day of a blue sky and only a light, tropical breeze on a dry course. Taylor played in a group with Mitchell, who also shot a 62. Their better-ball score would have been 55, with only four holes where neither of them made a birdie.
Mitchell also was right around the cut line. Then birdies started dropping, and now he's right in the mix, tied for 19th at 7 under.
Ditto for English, who had at least a share of the lead after every round at Kapalua Resort on the way to his playoff victory Sunday in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He opened at Waialae with a 70 and was in danger of missing the cut; then he shot a 64 and was six back, tied for 35th.
"I think it's probably harder out here to make double (bogey), and there's a lot of birdie opportunities," Taylor said. "You can make four, five, six pars in a row and you're probably getting lapped, especially with how the fairways are running."
Taylor wasn't even doing that. He was 1 over through five holes, slipping behind the cut line, but instead of worrying about that, he just kept playing and putting, along with that chip-in for eagle on the 18th.
Waialae has never looked so empty without fans, and Taylor wasn't sure how to react except to eventually high-five his caddie. Sergio Garcia had a moment like that, too. He holed a flop shot from right of the sixth green and simply stood there. No one was sure where it went until a caddie reached into the cup and tossed the ball to him.
The weekend figures to be as wild as ever.
Cink already won the 2020-21 season opener at the Safeway Open in September, his first victory since the 2009 British Open. He and his wife, a cancer survivor, recovered from COVID-19. His 23-year-old son Reagan took a leave from Delta Airlines to caddie for him. It doesn't take much to make the 47-year-old Alabama native and Atlanta-area native smile.
And then he played golf beneath a gorgeous blue sky in a light, tropical breeze with gentle surf along the edge of the course.
"Today was a dream day for playing here at Waialae," he said. "It was almost no wind. There was a little bit of moisture on the ground from last night, and it was a day where you could really dial it in. You could really hit your spots instead of having to do the usual, which is figure out how wind is going to help or hurt the ball."
The group three shots behind included Chile's Joaquin Niemann — the Tournament of Champions runner-up and a first-round co-leader at the Sony Open — reigning PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama, who shot 28 on his second nine for a 65.
The weather was so good that Simpson was nervous. He was 1 under for his round in conditions where he felt the good scores would be in the 62 range. Then he made a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fourth, closed with three straight birdies and felt a lot better.
"It's one of those days where calm winds, you feel like you need to go shoot 7, 8, 9 under, and I was a couple under for a while there," he said. "Really happy with my finish, and I thought if I can get it to double digits, I would be at least close to the lead going into Saturday."
The cut was at 4 under, and Baylor School graduate Luke List (67) missed it by three shots.