Sahith Theegala’s Passion for California Shines, JT Observes Notable Second Round Moments at Fortinet Championship

The first event of the FedEx Cup Fall has reached the weekend, and the leaderboard is strong with 36 holes in the books.

Ths second round of the 2023 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort in Napa, California, is complete, and there’s a California kid in front along with a PGA Tour rookie searching for their first victory. Meanwhile, a pair of U.S. Ryder Cup members, including the event’s two-time defending champion, are in position to make a weekend push.

The Fortinet Championship is the first of seven fall events on Tour, where players will battle it out to earn spots in elevated-event fields at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis Invitational.

Fortinet Championship: Photos

Here’s what you need to know from Friday’s second round at the Fortinet Championship.

Theegala loves the West coast

2023 Fortinet Championship

Sahith Theegala of the United States plays a shot from a bunker on the 11th hole during the second round of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa on September 15, 2023 in Napa, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Sahith Theegala has plenty of reasons to play this week in the first fall event.

He’s a California kid who went to college at Pepperdine. He loves Silverado Resort and PGA Tour stops on the West Coast. He’s a big fan of poa annua grass. So, there wasn’t really a question whether he would tee it up this week.

“This was one of my first sponsor invites I got, and one of my best friends lives in Napa,” Theegala said. “It’s just a great event for all my family and friends to come out to.

“I’m such an addict, it’s tough for me to sit around and do nothing, too. I felt like three weeks was ample break. I was fired up missing East Lake by one, so just kind of wanted to play a tournament ASAP.”

Safe to say his anticipation was worth it.

Theegala is one of the 36-hole leaders at the Fortinet Championship, sitting at 12-under 132 following a Friday 64 that moved him to the top of the leaderboard.

The 25-year-old made the Tour Championship after his rookie season last year, but he’s still searching for his first victory. (He did win the QBE Shootout last December). He admitted he can’t stay away from the game too much, and which professional can’t, which is another reason he teed it up in Napa this week.

“I spent probably a week and a half not touching a golf club,” Theegala said. “Then I actually put in new irons for the first time in a really, really long time. Actually practiced the last four or five days, which is more than I thought I’d do. I thought I’d just come here with no practice and start on Monday.”

New irons with refreshed mindset and approach have Theegala in excellent position with the weekend ahead.

“I will say the reps leading up to the event were definitely more relaxed, definitely don’t feel stressed to kind of start off the year well,” he said. “I think it’s definitely translated a little bit.”

S.H. Kim in rare position

2023 Fortinet Championship
S.H. Kim of South Korea prepares to putt on the 14th green during the second round of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa on September 15, 2023 in Napa, California. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Coming into the Fortinet Championship, S.H. Kim, a 24-year-old rookie, had only one top-10 finish in 32 starts on Tour, coming last October in Las Vegas. He missed five of his final seven cuts and missed out on the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Kim is tied for the lead at the halfway point in Napa. He opened in 65-67 and will play with Theegala in the final group on Saturday.

“Definitely feel more comfortable playing the course that I played it once last year,” Kim said. “Just being prepared for the tournament, looking forward to the tournament, I just feel comfortable knowing that I know what the course looks like and how I need to approach.”

Kim finished T-36 last September in the season-opening event. He’s looking forward to pairing on Saturday.

“I do remember playing with Sahith last season,” Kim said. “He’s a great person with a great personality. I know he draws a pretty big crowd as well, so I’m looking forward to playing with him.”

Who’s that near the top?

2023 Fortinet Championship

Justin Thomas of the United States plays his shot from the 13th tee during the second round of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa on September 15, 2023 in Napa, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Justin Thomas is one of two U.S. Ryder Cuppers at the Fortinet Championship. And he seems to have found some form with a couple weeks to go until Rome.

Thomas followed up an opening 69 with a 5-under 67 on Friday, moving to 8 under for the tournament and four back of Theegala. It was his fourth straight round in the 60s, building off his T-12 finish in the Wyndham Championship last month.

Sitting T-6 after two rounds, how is Thomas’ game trending?

“I played well, I played really solid,” Thomas said. “I drove the ball well, felt like I gave myself a lot of chances, felt like a lot of like 12- to 20-footers. It was nice to make those putts on the last two holes because I felt like I would have been a little for walking off for how I played.”

Roughly three weeks ago, Thomas put a new driver in the bag and had been hitting it well until Wednesday’s pro-am, something he attributed to having not hit it in competition. So he made a switch before the first round to his old one, but he struggled Thursday.

He made a quick adjustment during his round to finish the day, then had a 10-minute range session with the longer (by ¾ an inch) driver afterward.

Safe to say, he feels pretty comfortable with his big stick heading into the weekend.

“If I drive it like I did today, I’ll use it for the rest of my career,” Thomas said.

Checking in on Homa’s chances at a three-peat

2023 Fortinet Championship

Max Homa of the United States plays his shot from the fourth tee during the second round of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa on September 15, 2023 in Napa, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The hunt for a three-peat continues.

Max Homa, the two-time defending champion of the Fortinet Championship, shot up the leaderboard Friday afternoon after a 6-under 66. He’s tied with Thomas and a host of others at 8 under. His 66 came while only making birdie on one of the four par 5s at Silverado Resort, but there was also some luck in his round, as well.

“I had a couple, a couple weird holes, but other than that I feel like I did OK.” Homa said. “I guess I hit a few balls more offline, but I felt like I hit a similar amount of good shots. Wedges were really good. I felt like when I was in the fairway, I took advantage. When I wasn’t, I did a good job of getting myself back in position to make par. I was proud of that.”

On the par-4 13th, which he doubled Thursday, his second shot went into a tall tree between he and the putting surface. Somehow, his ball went through and settled 20 feet short of the cup.

On the next hole, his tee shot was leaking left and deflected off a tree and into the fairway. He hit his approach shot to 4 feet and converted the birdie.

“I need to play a bit cleaner if I’m going to make a run this weekend, but the game feels pretty good,” Homa said. “Just taking care of some kind of sloppy golf swings.”

Steve Stricker won the John Deere Classic from 2009-11, the last golfer on Tour to win three straight events. Homa is well in the hunt to add his name to that list, becoming the seventh to ever do it.

Rookie of the Year on Cole’s mind

2023 Fortinet Championship

Eric Cole of the United States prepares to putt on the 18th green during the second round of the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa on September 15, 2023 in Napa, California. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Eric Cole had a strong rookie season on Tour.

He qualified for the BMW Championship, locking up spots in the 2024 signature events. Cole made 22 cuts in 32 starts yet decided to play in Napa this week. It’s a spot he and his fianceé could come and escape, but he also had other goals in mind: the Rookie of the Year award.

“I’d say it definitely is motivating,” Cole said. “It’s one of those things you only get one chance at it, which is something that’s a little rare. Definitely something that’s motivating. I’m trying to play as well as I can. If that’s how it ends up, then that would be great.”

Cole sits at 10 under after rounds of 68 and 66 at Silverado Resort. He had three top-10 finishes this year, including a playoff loss at the Honda Classic. He didn’t have to play in the first fall events, but he feels free having his status for next year locked up.

“There’s definitely a little bit of freedom that comes with being in that top 50 after last year and having kind of a set schedule to play and not have to worry about that too much,” Cole said. “Kind of like as a rookie going into this year, you have a lot of questions as to which tournaments you’re going to get in and which ones you aren’t. So to have those tournaments is nice.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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