WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Billy Hurley III has been waiting for a breakthrough moment on the PGA Tour.
On Independence Day, the former U.S. Navy officer might have set himself up for one this weekend in the Greenbrier Classic.
Hurley shot a season-best 7-under-par 63 on Friday to take the second-round lead. Hurley’s bogey-free round included a chip-in from 29 feet on No. 4 in cool conditions before the wind picked up considerably late in his morning round.
“You know, anytime you play good, it’s great, right?” he said. “There’s special days of the year for our country, and having served ... adds something to it.”
It’s a nice storyline. Then again, having military experience wasn’t on his mind in jumping to the top of the leaderboard.
“I was just trying to keep getting the ball in the hole,” he said.
Hurley was at 9-under 131 at Old White TPC. Eleven players were within four shots.
Kevin Chappell (65) and Chris Stroud (66) were a stroke back. Troy Matteson had a 61 to vault into fourth at 7-under. He has made the cut in all five years of the Greenbrier Classic.
Brice Garnett (66), Steve Stricker (68) and Chris Kirk (69) were another stroke back.
Hurley graduated from Annapolis in 2004 and spent five years in the Navy. He playing golf sparingly while stationed in Hawaii and worked out as much as he could.
Being mentally tough on the course comes easy for Hurley, whose missions included steering a Navy destroyer through the Suez Canal.
Playing partner Chris Stroud said it was “special” for a former military man to be leading the tournament and was amazed at how Hurley could recapture his golf game.
“There’s a lot to be said about that,” Stroud said.
Hurley rejoined the PGA Tour this season and has three top-10 finishes so far, including a tie for eighth at Congressional last week. His best career finish is a tie for fourth in the AT&T National two years ago, also at Congressional.
A solid ending at The Greenbrier would get him into the British Open later this month. The four best finishers not previously eligible among the top 12 on the final leaderboard will earn spots in the July 17-20 tournament at Royal Liverpool.
Playing alongside good friend Hurley, Stroud birdied four of his first five holes but gained no more ground.
Chappell’s round included holing a 35-yard pitch on the par-3 15th after a poor tee shot.
Chappell’s only top-10 finish of the season came at Colonial. But this week, he’s at ease amid the mountains, Howard’s Creek running through the Old White TPC and the rest of the resort’s atmosphere.
“You know, the course has a great flow to it, just at peace out there,” he said. “All the running water and all the good scenery just puts me in a good spot.”
Also, Charles Howell III announced during Friday’s round that he has withdrawn from the British Open for “a personal family reason.”
STADLER UPS LEAD AT FRENCH OPEN: In Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, Kevin Stadler increased his lead at the French Open to three strokes by shooting a 3-under 68 in the second round.
The American made six birdies and dropped three shots, including a double bogey on his last hole, for a 10-under 132.
“I wasn’t expecting to play this well obviously, but I enjoyed the golf course,” Stadler said. “I thought it was a course that suited me from the very beginning.”
Stadler was making his French Open debut but quickly got a good feel for this punishing golf course that will host the Ryder Cup in 2018.
Frenchman Victor Riu (67) was in second, two strokes clear of Marcel Siem (72).
SLOAN, RODRIGUEZ ON TOP: Canada’s Roger Sloan shot a 6-under 65 for a share of the second-round lead with Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Rodriguez in the Nova Scotia Open.
The 27-year-old Sloan, a former Texas-El Paso player from Calgary, Alberta, matched first-round leader Rodriguez at 10-under 132 on Ashburn Golf Club’s New Course. Rodriguez had a 69.