LA QUINTA, Calif. – Humana Challenge leader Matt Kuchar was asked if was surprised that there have only been six 59s on the PGA Tour and that no one has shot 58.
“No. We’re talking about golf,” Kuchar said. “It’s a difficult game. It’s a very challenging game. Fifty-nine, that’s a lot under par. That is quite an amazing feat.”
Ryan Palmer was in position to do it Friday after playing an eight-hole stretch in 10 under. Needing to go 3 under on the final eight to shoot 59, he bogeyed the next two holes and ended up with an 11-under 61.
“Walking off 10, after I got to 10 under, I was staying calm, trying not to think about anything, just trying to keep my momentum going, my pace with my walk,” Palmer said. “It’s hard not to think about it.”
After opening with two pars, Palmer had two eagles and six birdies on the next eight holes to match the longest eagle-birdie streak in PGA Tour history. He stumbled with the bogeys on the par-4 second and par-3 third and couldn’t get a couple of late putts to fall.
“Couple loose swings there,” Palmer said. “I guess the bogeys did kind of calm me down a little bit more and I didn’t worry about, obviously, the number.”
Palmer birdied the fourth and sixth holes and made another on the par-5 eighth after missing an 8-foot eagle try. A 59 no longer possible, he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the ninth in a closing par.
The 38-year-old Texan holed out from 97 yards for eagle on the par-4 12th to start the streak on PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Private Course. He birdied the next three holes, made a 20-foot eagle putt from the fringe on the par-5 16th and added three more birdies.
“I putted well,” Palmer said. “I didn’t make anything long, except for the eagle on 16.”
He tied the birdie-eagle streak record set by Billy Mayfair in the 2001 Buick Open and matched by Briny Baird in the 2003 FUNAI Classic. Mayfair and Baird were 9 under during their runs, making seven birdies and an eagle.
At 9-under 27, Palmer matched the tour record for relation to par for nine holes and was a stroke off the record of 26 set by Corey Pavin on a par-34 nine in Milwaukee in 2006.
Six players have shot 59 on the PGA Tour. Al Geiberger did it in the 1977 Memphis Classic, Chip Beck in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, David Duval on the Palmer course in the final round of his 1999 Bob Hope victory, Paul Goydos in the 2010 John Deere Classic, Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic and Jim Furyk in the 2013 BMW Championship. Ryo Ishikawa shot the lowest round on a major tour, a 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.
Palmer had a 12-under 132 total after opening with a 71 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club. He was three strokes behind Kuchar.
Kuchar, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11, had a 64 on the Nicklaus course. He tied for third last week in Hawaii in the Sony Open.
“Game feels solid,” Kuchar said. “I feel like I know where it’s going, feel like I’m hitting it in the center of the clubface.”
Bill Haas and first-round leader Michael Putnam were a stroke back. Haas had a 63 at La Quinta. He had nine birdies in a 10-hole stretch, making seven in a row on Nos. 2-8.
“The putter was what’s got me in the hunt,” Haas said. “We don’t play better greens on tour than these greens here.”
Putnam shot a 67 on the Arnold Palmer Private Course.
Justin Thomas, Nick Watney and Scott Pinckney were 13 under. Thomas had a 63, Watney shot 64, and Pinckney 67 – all on the Nicklaus course.
Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton had a 66 at La Quinta to get to 12 under.
“I’m kind of surprised, but I had a really good offseason,” Compton said. “I’m more surprised with my emotions and temper. It’s been a goal of mine just to be as steady as I can and to control the emotions.”
Phil Mickelson was 7 under in his first start since the Ryder Cup in September. He birdied his final five holes for a 66 on the Nicklaus course.
“It took me 31 holes to get my game to click,” Mickelson said.
The 44-year-old Mickelson won the event in 2002 and 2004. He’s winless in 27 PGA Tour starts since the 2013 British Open.
Canada’s Nick Taylor is tied for 11th after a second-round 67 left him at 11-under par.