Brian Harman flirts with golf history

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- He was absolutely scorching PGA National, well on his way to a score that had never been threatened on the property, when he stood over his second shot to the par-5 18th green, fully aware of the history at stake.

The normal play from about 250 yards would have been to hit a 3-wood safely on the green, likely in the back, and then take a two-putt birdie and get out.

But PGA Tour Brian Harman was having none of that kind of decision making Friday during the second round of the Honda Classic.

He was 9 under par on the par-70 course, which meant an eagle at the home hole would mean a piece of PGA Tour history: a 59.

"Obviously, I was trying to do the magic number,'' Harman said, smiling.

So he took out a hybrid, hoping to hit it closer to the hole. The ball came up short in a bunker, from where he nearly holed the shot for the eagle. He then missed the 5-foot putt for birdie, "settling'' for 61 -- which beat the tournament and course record by three strokes.

"I was a little hot that I missed that 5-footer, but at the same time, I was really aggressive with that bunker shot,'' he said. "Thinking back, I probably shouldn't have been, but whatever. … I saw where Davis [Love] had shot 64 yesterday and just thought, 'How did he shoot 64 out here, this place is so hard.'"

That has certainly been PGA National's reputation.

Last year it ranked as the hardest venue on the PGA Tour outside of the major championships, playing to an average of 2.55 strokes over par. Rory Sabbatini's winning total was 9 under par for 72 holes. Harman got to that number in one round. And he's not even leading.

Tom Gillis, with a 64, finished at 132, 8 under, and was joined by Justin Rose, who has shot consecutive 66s. Rory McIlroy, who has a chance to go to No. 1 in the world with a victory, added a 67 to his opening 66 and is a stroke back, along with Dicky Pride. Harman is tied for fifth, two strokes back.

A resident of St. Simons Island, Ga., Harman, 25, wasn't even on the Nationwide Tour last year. He played the developmental circuit three times but spent the majority of his year competing on a mini-tour called the eGolf Tour, finishing 10th on the money list.

That got him a few pats on the back but no status on the Nationwide Tour pecking order. He had to go through the PGA Tour's Qualifying Tournament, where he tied for eighth to earn status for this year.

Coming into this week, Harman had made the cut in four of five tournaments, with his best finish a tie for 20th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Earlier this week, he was an alternate in the Honda field, but got in when players withdrew.

And after an opening-round 73, Harman figured he was playing to make the cut.

But he came out firing, playing the first three holes in 4 under. After shooting 29 on the first nine, he made a birdie at the 11th to get to 7 under for his round. He bogeyed the 12th, but then made three straight birdies at Nos. 14 through 16.

"This is probably one of the hardest golf courses we play all year, and just to have a chance to do something special like that is really humbling and it's really cool,'' he said.

Only five players in PGA Tour history have shot 59 -- Al Geiberger (1977, Memphis); Chip Beck (1991, Las Vegas), David Duval (1999, Bob Hope), Paul Goydos (2010, John Deere) and Stuart Appleby (2010, Greenbrier).

A college star at Georgia and a former Walker Cup team member, Harman is just 5-foot-7 and barely 150 pounds.

"I won't be dunking a basketball anytime soon,'' he said. "I don't get too wrapped up in it. I hit it far enough. I can hit one a little further when I want to. Some guys are always going to be able to hit it past me.''

Harman was asked if he's ever shot a better score, anywhere. He couldn't remember -- although you'd think he would.

"Yeah, this would probably be the best round that I played in at least as far as I can remember,'' he said.

As McIlroy said: "A 61 on this golf course is pretty impressive. A 61 on any golf course is impressive.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.