McKINNEY, Texas — Now that Sam Burns has figured out how to turn an early lead into a victory, it’s already time to try again.
Burns birdied six of his last eight holes Friday for a 10-under 62 and a two-stroke lead over Alex Noren at 17 under after the second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Noren shot 64 to get to 15 under, and K.H. Lee had his second 65 to reach 14 under. Doc Redman bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 67 that left him 13 under.
J.J. Spaun was 12 under, following a first-round 63 that left him tied with Jordan Spieth with a 69. Spieth shot 70, leaving the local favorite in the group at 11 under that included Matt Kuchar and Charl Schwartzel.
Scoring went up overall along with the wind a day after the new home of the Nelson, the par-72 TPC Craig Ranch north of Dallas, surrendered 94 rounds in the 60s in its debut. That number dropped considerably in the second round.
The tougher conditions didn’t affect Burns, playing for the first time since his first PGA Tour win two weeks ago at the Valspar Championship in Florida.
Before Burns won at Innisbrook, the 24-year-old Louisiana native who lives in East Texas had twice failed to convert 54-hole leads, in the Houston Open last fall and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February.
Now he has a tour-best five 36-hole leads this season after following a 65 with the lowest round of his career. Burns is trying to become the first to get his first two PGA Tour victories in consecutive starts since Camilo Villegas in 2008.
“The biggest thing for me is just seeing the hard work that we put in it, start seeing results from that,” Burns said. “A lot of times you don’t know how long the results are going to take. It’s cool to see some feedback from the progress we’ve made back home and seeing it in tournament play as well.”
Already with a four-hole run of birdies on the back nine, Burns put his tee shot in the stadium setting of the par-3 17th inside 4 feet, then hit a short approach on the par-5 18th to 2 feet for birdie.
Another birdie came on the par-4 14th, when Burns laid up on the 318-yard hole while bulked-up playing partner Bryson DeChambeau drove the green and two-putted for birdie for the second day in a row. Burns made a 17-footer.
DeChambeau, who played at nearby SMU and is one of three top-10 players in the field, had two late bogeys for a 68 to get to 7 under. Sung Kang, the 2019 winner and defending champion after last year’s cancellation, is 8 under after a 69.
Spieth didn’t make any putts beyond 12 feet a day after a 55-footer for eagle on the final hole pulled him even with Spaun.
Still, Spieth was in his best position in five years for a top-10 finish — or better — at the Nelson. That hasn’t happened in the decade since Spieth contended on Sunday as a 16-year-old amateur before tying for 16th.
Not only are Spieth’s thoughts on the best finish in his hometown event, the three-time major winner and others are peeking at next week’s PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.
“There is no reason for me not to trust everything I’m doing,” said Spieth, who ended a nearly four-year victory drought in San Antonio the week before finishing third at the Masters. “At this point, I’ve got an opportunity to contend here, and if I can get myself a chance on Sunday, that is the best prep for this tournament and also next week.”
Burns and Spieth already have spots in the PGA. Lee, who has never won on the PGA Tour, doesn’t. A Nelson victory would put the 29-year-old South Korean in the field.
Hideki Matsuyama shot 70 and was right on the Nelson’s record-low cut line at 6 under in his first appearance since becoming the first Japanese winner at the Masters. Jon Rahm, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3, shot 69 and was 7 under.
Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris, playing not far from where he grew up on a course he knows well, joined Matsuyama at 6 under. The 24-year-old birdied two of his last four holes for a 68.
The Nelson moved to Craig Ranch after last year’s COVID-19 cancellation, which followed two years at the treeless Trinity Forest links course in Dallas. Before that, the Nelson spent more than 30 years at the Four Seasons resort in Irving.
Craig Ranch’s debut coincided with Lee Westwood‘s first appearance in either Dallas-area tournament. The 48-year-old Englishman, who hasn’t played Colonial in nearby Fort Worth, shot a 64 and was 9 under. Westwood wanted to see his daughter in Florida — and didn’t want to go into the PGA without having played in a month.
“I thought maybe, you know, try a new experience,” said Westwood, who opened his second round on the back nine and birdied five of the first six holes. “I don’t want to call it prep for next week, but I prefer to go into a major championship being competitive the week before.”