KAPALUA, Hawaii — Zach Johnson putted for birdie on every hole and made seven of them Saturday for a 6-under 67 that put him in a four-way tie for the lead after two rounds of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Johnson was halfway home to becoming the first repeat winner at Kapalua who wasn’t from Australia — Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy were the others. But not only is the first PGA Tour event of the year only through 36 holes, it’s extraordinarily crowded.
Jimmy Walker dropped a stroke late and shot 68. Russell Henley got off to a sluggish start before a solid back nine for a 70. Bae Sang-Moon closed with eight straight pars for a 69. They joined Johnson at 11-under 135.
Scott Stalling, was in that group until twice hitting into the bushes and tall grass — on his tee shot at the 17th and his second shot at the par-5 18th. Both cost him bogeys in a 70 that sent him spiraling down the leaderboard, just not very far.
He was among 10 players separated by just two shots going into the third round.
Five players, including Patrick Reed, a former University High golfer, and Hideki Matsuyama, were in the group one shot behind.
So much for this week being a working vacation along the western shores of Maui. These guys came to play.
“I think it’s so competitive,” Henley said. “I think the way guys look at it now, it’s a great opportunity to have a good finish and get off to a great start, if not win.”
Johnson got off to a great start last year when he won. That turned out to be his only victory of 2014, and he’s right back in the hunt again. His only bogey on another benign day above the blue Pacific was a three-putt on the eighth hole. He made birdie on all the par 5s, though the last one required a little more work.
Johnson popped up his drive, which still went 294 yards because of the 150-foot drop from the tee to the fairway. He had to pound a 3-wood to get beyond the neck of the fairway, and then he flew his third shot beyond the flag. Shots like that used to roll off the back of the green. In soft conditions Johnson made a 15-foot putt to be the first to reach 11 under.
Schwartzel surges 5 clear OF FIELD: In Johannesburg, Charl Schwartzel opened with four straight birdies to card a 6-under 66 on Saturday and surge five shots clear after the third round of the South African Open.
Schwartzel moved to 13-under 203 to put himself in position for a first victory at his home open at Glendower Golf Club.
The 2011 Masters winner started superbly, and although he also made two bogeys, he had eight birdies in all to open up a gap.
Schwartzel is aiming to bounce back from a winless 2014. England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick (67) and Scotland’s David Drysdale (68) were tied.
Five-time winner Ernie Els had a recovery of sorts after slipping out of contention with a 77 on Friday. He had a 69 to move up to a tie for 20th.