Jerry Kelly stood on the 18th green at TPC Louisiana, waiting to sink a 4-foot birdie putt that would cap a stellar round of 9-under 63 and give him a share of the lead Friday afternoon near the end of the second round in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
But Kelly, the 2009 Zurich Classic champion, never got the chance to drop in the putt for what would’ve been his second-lowest round of the season.
Before he could stand over it, PGA Tour officials suspended play at 4:30 p.m. and cleared the course of players, caddies and spectators in anticipation of severe weather heading toward the area.
A tornado watch was issued by the National Weather Service for the River Parishes just west of the TPC Louisiana layout in Avondale and PGA Tour officials called for the immediate evacuation of the course.
That left 27-year-old Hudson Swafford, a non-winner on the PGA Tour, and veteran Boo Weekley as the overnight leaders at 11-under with Kelly and four others one shot back at 10-under.
The group at 10-under included Jason Day, the world’s sixth-ranked player, and first-round co-leader Brendon de Jonge, who shot a 70 early Friday after opening with a 64 — matching Weekley — on Thursday.
Six more golfers were another stroke back at 9-under when play was halted with 78 players still on the course.
The tournament will resume at 8 a.m. Saturday, weather permitting, with the completion of the second round followed by the third round in the $6.9 million event.
“I hit the ball well, putted well,” said Kelly, who made four birdies in a row in the middle of his back nine after starting it with a sweeping 63-foot birdie putt on No. 10. “I got a little over-cautious on the last hole with a 3-wood and was farther out than I wanted and hit a bad layup. But I hit a good chip up there.”
Before the weather arrived, Swafford backed up a 5-under 67 Thursday with a 66 on Friday to grab the early second-round lead.
Swafford carded three birdies on the front nine and three on the back side to finish with a second consecutive bogey-free round on the rain-softened layout after missing the cut here as a PGA Tour rookie a year ago.
“I’ve done a really good job of taking on the trouble, I guess, of the fairway bunkers and having good angles into the greens,” said Swafford, who lost his Tour card and then regained it last fall. “I’ve done a good job of that, and had a lot of (birdie) chances.
“I’m just chipping well and rolling it really nice,” he added. “I’m seeing (putting) lines. I’m not going to say it’s been stress-free, but I’ve really given myself a good chance.”
Weekley was among the players still on the course when play was called. After a 64 on Thursday, he had a slow start with only one birdie after beginning his round on the back nine.
He picked up birdies at the second and third holes to catch Swafford and will have three holes remaining Saturday morning to pass him.
De Jonge had an indifferent round Friday morning after a bogey-free round with eight birdies in the opening round on Thursday and was in at 10-under with Cameron Tringale, who had a bogey-free round of 65 Friday after shooting 69 on Thursday.
De Jonge, who is seeking his first PGA Tour victory in his 225th career start, got off to a birdie-birdie start Friday, but cooled off when he couldn’t find his putting stroke. He gave a stroke back at No. 4, then had 12 consecutive pars before getting a birdie at the difficult par 3 17th.
“It was nice to make a couple of birdies early on, but unfortunately, I didn’t make any putts,” de Jonge said. “I had plenty of opportunities, I just couldn’t get the ball in the hole today.”
Like de Jonge, Tringale got off to a hot start. He had a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 1, then chipped in from 70 feet for an eagle-3 at the par 5 second.
“Yeah, it was a good,” Tringale said. “I birdied the first three holes on the front side (Thursday), so I knew I had to keep pace. I made a nice birdie at No. 1 and then holed a little pitch from the side of the bunker.”
Day, Kelly and Daniel Berger were also 10-under, but still had some work to do. Day was playing the 15th fairway, while Berger had finished 15 holes.
Day, who carded a 67 on Thursday, reached 5-under for the day after nearly making a hole-in-one at the par 3 14th hole. He tapped in a 2-foot birdie putt there to get to 10-under.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.