There are two ways to look at the WGC-HSBC Champions leaderboard after Round 2. The first is that Matthew Fitzpatrick is leading and Rory McIlroy trails by one with an opportunity to close out yet another WGC event. That is a very traditional (and correct) way of looking at this leaderboard.
Here’s another way. This is what the leaderboard looked like after Round 2.
2: Northern Ireland
T3: South Korea
T3: United States
8: South Africa
That’s — somewhat incredibly — nine countries represented in the top 10 of a PGA Tour leaderboard, which has to be the first time that’s ever happened after any second round in any PGA Tour event … ever. Note: There were 11 countries represented in the top 10 after Round 1.
From Sungjae Im (my guy!) to Paul Waring to Victor Perez and back to Matthias Schwab and Adam Scott, it’s as diverse a board as I’ve ever seen in my life. The fact that exactly one American and one Austrian are both represented is kind of amazing considering there are more U.S. players ranked in the top 10 of the world than there are Austrians in the top 1,000.
These stories and players aren’t flukes either. Im is one of the 20 best players in the world right now. Li has played well here in the past and won on the European Tour. McIlroy is the best player ever from his country, and Oosthuizen and Scott are in the conversation for their countries.
We talk a lot about golf being a global game, but a lot of the time that’s just buzzy language used to hit talking points or stir up interest. This is maybe the best evidence we’ve had this year that golf is a global game at the highest level. It doesn’t stop at that top 10 either. Robert Macintyre of Scotland is T11. Abe Ancer of Mexico is T11. Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand is T11. Add it all up, and there are 12 countries represented in the top 11 on the board and 15 in the top 20.
It’s an amazing amalgamation of flag colors and playing styles. And for a sport that has sometimes been slow on the diversity front, it’s a refreshing reminder that the golf ball knows no color or country, and sports often serves as the best melting pot of all.
McIlroy, of course, is probably going to win this thing by 10 with the way he’s playing right now. He shot his second-straight 67 on Friday and will tee off last on Saturday alongside Xander Schauffele and Fitzpatrick. He ended with an eagle on the final hole to continue his preposterous run of elite golf.
“Delighted with the first two rounds,” McIlroy said. “To put myself right in contention going into the weekend is something that I wanted to do. It’s something that I haven’t done a lot of over the last few weeks. I’ve sort of had bad starts and then clawed my way back into a good position at the end, but to be right in the tournament after two days, I’m excited.”
So am I. It’s always exciting with McIlroy involved in any tournament. And this time he has an intriguing, diverse cast of characters to play spoiler in what would be the 18th PGA Tour win (and third WGC) of his amazing career. It would, however, be his first WGC-HSBC Champions, which would keep with a theme of the week as he looks to diversify what is already an incredible portfolio of victories.