The Champions Tour rookie, a tight wrap covering his left wrist and a constant reminder of his difficult recent past, shot a 10-under 62 on Saturday to take a four-shot lead over Corey Pavin after two rounds at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
It didn't match his career low of 60 set in 2004 when Bryant was a consistent threat on the PGA Tour. It was oh-so-satisfying, nonetheless. He's trying to recapture a lot of what he lost at the end of his career on the big circuit, when two wrist surgeries kept him away from the game for three years.
"My wrist is hanging in there. I feel I've been gathering momentum all year, to be honest with you," Bryant said. "I didn't have a lot of game at the beginning of the year. I was able to kind of piece together some rounds, but I knew there wasn't much game there."
There is now, even though he doesn't even practice during the week of a tournament.
Bryant took advantage of another serene day at En-Joie Golf Club, making six birdies in his first seven holes to surge past first-round leader Kenny Perry and finished the day at 16-under 128, a 36-hole record for the tournament.
Duffy Waldorf was 11 under after a 65, and Rick Fehr (67) and Russ Cochran (67) were 10 under. Perry was eight strokes back at 8 under after a 71.
Bryant's round matched the Champions Tour course record set by R.W. Eaks in 2007, the tournament's first year. Hal Sutton, Robert Gamez and Fred Funk each shot 61 when En-Joie hosted the old B.C. Open on the PGA Tour.
More than half the field broke par under nearly ideal scoring conditions on the first day, and the assault at the narrow, tree-lined layout continued Saturday as 47 players finished the day under par.
Perry, the hottest player on the Champions Tour after victories this summer in the Senior Players and U.S. Senior Open, began the day with a one-shot lead after opening with a 7-under 65. Playing in the final threesome with Bryant and Joel Edwards, Perry watched his slim margin slip away quickly.
The formula for going low at the narrow, tree-lined course is to keep the ball in the fairway, and nobody was more consistent than Bryant over the first two rounds. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation each day.
Bryant should have birdied the first seven holes. He rolled in a perfectly paced 20-foot putt that broke right to left at the par-4 second hole, hit his tee shot to 8 feet at No. 4, then made a superlative save at the par-5 fifth hole, blasting out of a greenside bunker to 3 feet from the flag.
He followed that with consecutive 30-foot birdie putts on the next two holes, his only early miscue coming at No. 3, one of three par-5s on the front nine. He stuck his third shot within 5 feet, then watched in dismay as his birdie try barely skimmed the lip and stayed out.
"I played really solid today," Bryant said. "But probably the club of the day for me was the putter. That's kind of been the club that's been holding me back. I just made a lot of putts."
Bryant continued his assault with an 18-foot birdie putt at No. 11 and another birdie at No. 12 to reach 14 under, just missing an eagle try on the latter. Perry also had a chance for eagle at the par-5 and scowled in dismay when his putt barely missed and he had to settle for a birdie.
Pavin, on a roll with finishes among the top three in each of his last three outings, gained sole possession of second at 11 under after making a 6-foot birdie putt at the difficult 15th hole, a 432-yard par-4 that's guarded by a massive water hazard. It was one of only nine birdies there on the day.
"I was playing well before this," Pavin said. "My putter just wasn't behaving as well as I would have liked. I was hitting a lot of good putts and I wasn't making them."
Pavin hit 11 of 14 fairways and reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation on the day and needed only 26 putts as he repeatedly hit it close. He had three putts inside 6 feet, made a 25-footer from the fringe at No. 12, and sank a 15-footer at No. 16 for his final birdie.
Bryant matched that moments later with a birdie at No. 14 after hitting a 4-iron to 5 feet at the 212-yard par-3 and closed his round with a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
Now, it's on to Sunday and the pressure that always brings.
"I know I am going to have to go out and play really well tomorrow to win this," Bryant said. "Someone's going to go low. I can't go out and play real safe. But if I can drive it well, play solid, and if my putter continues to perform as it has, I think it could be a real good day."
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