Golf / Sports

Crane, rain taking FedEx St. Jude Classic by storm

The seven-foot par putt on No. 18 slid slightly left past the hole and for a second -- perhaps the only moment during his first 36 holes of the FedEx St. Jude Classic -- Ben Crane appeared human.

It was Crane's lone bogey in an almost flawless opening two rounds of golf at TPC Southwind. A 38-year-old from Westlake, Texas, Crane followed an opening-round 63 with a 65 Friday to move to an unlikely 12-under par, the lowest two-day total (128) at the FESJC since 2005 when Justin Leonard, the eventual champion, was at 13-under 127.

And not only was it an unexpected 36-hole score at one the tour's most challenging par-70 courses, it also was an unlikely score for Crane, who entered the FESJC having missed four of five cuts while growing accustomed to a redesigned golf swing to alleviate back problems.

Friday was no pain, all gain, for Crane, who opened a six-stroke lead on the field early in the day before heavy rains once again suspended play as they did in Thursday's opening round. Six shots back are Carl Pettersson, who was 3-under through 17 for the round, and Jason Bohn, who was 3-under through 16.

The first suspension came shortly after 1 p.m. and the second at 2:15, about 15 minutes after play had resumed. With the course saturated by more than three hours of rain, including more than an inch of rain in a 30-minute period, PGA Tour officials canceled play for the day shortly before 5 p.m. and will resume the second round at 7 a.m.

"We had 1.15 inches of rain in 30 minutes," said tournament director Phil Cannon. "Saturday will be a busy day."

Tour officials said there will not be enough time to finish the third round Saturday even if the weather cooperates. After the second round is completed Saturday, the cut will be made and threesomes will go off from Nos. 1 and 10.

Among those who did not start their second round Friday were Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and former FESJC champion Dustin Johnson. Goosen had an opening-round 4-under 66 Thursday, while Mickelson shot 67. Mickelson's group, which includes defending champ Harris English, will tee off from No. 1 at 7 a.m. and be followed by, in succession, groups headed by 2012 champ Johnson, 2010 champ Lee Westwood and Goosen. Mickelson's group was on the first tee at 2:15 when play was suspended.

Only 32 golfers finished the second round, none happier, or more surprised about his success this week, than Crane.

"I certainly didn't expect to be here," Crane said. "When someone asked me 'Did you see this coming?' I was like, wow, if someone had told me a couple of days ago I'd be standing in front of a bunch of cameras (answering questions) I'd have asked, 'What did I do?' It's been an incredible two days."

Crane has had only one top 10 finish in 16 events this season while reworking his swing, but his game appeared to be returning to form in recent weeks. After 20 consecutive rounds in the 70s, he shot 68-70-73-67 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago in Dallas. And he has kept those swing thoughts at the FESJC.

"It's been a pleasant surprise because it's been a tough year," Crane said. "I'm just thrilled to be playing well."

Taking advantage of soft, receptive greens -- much like he did playing Thursday's opening round following heavy rains -- Crane started with a 44-foot birdie putt on No. 1 that broke four feet and added birdies at Nos. 7, 9, 11, 13 and 16. His 14-foot birdie putt on No. 11 rimmed the cup before dropping in.

His deft touch with the putter -- he was 32-of-32 from inside 15 feet through 35 holes -- made the bogey at 18 almost surreal, so the final-hole blemish didn't detract from what he has accomplished.

"I like Bermuda greens," Crane said. "Champions Bermuda, I think, is the best type of Bermuda. I've just been trying to put the best stroke on it I can, trying to match the speed and the line. I feel like I've been putting really well (this year), but for some reason they're going in. I've had great touch this week."

Others finishing before the suspension of play included 50-year-old Davis Love III, who shot even-par 70 for 135, and Billy Horschel. Horschel also finished at 135 after a 2-under 68. They are tied for fourth.

Love, who tied for third at the 2012 FESJC, has had his share of success at TPC Southwind. He finished fourth in 2005 and 10th in 1999. He has made six consecutive cuts here.

"I hit a lot of good shots, and I'm (putting) the ball really well," Love said. "I would have taken 5-under after the first two days if you had asked me. I'm right in it for the weekend."

Horschel, who tied for 15th at last week's Memorial Tournament, finished 10th at last year's FESJC and isn't prepared to concede the tournament to Crane.

"Ben has played good the first two days," Horschel said. "No doubt about it. But they don't award a tournament trophy after 36 holes."

Horschel, a former University of Florida golfer, said from his experience it's difficult to putt at a level Crane has been putting for four days.

"You're going to have one of those days where it may not work out the way it should," Horschel said. "But Ben is going to play (his game) and I'm going to play my game and we'll see what happens Sunday."

(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

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