Guthrie, Thompson dissect PGA National to top of leaderboard
PHOTOS: Honda Classic (Rd. 2)
Take a look at photos from the second round of the Honda Classic on March 1 at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – A return to his college helped Luke Guthrie take the halfway lead at the Honda Classic, though his 63 was overshadowed by Rory McIlroy’s nine-hole round.
Guthrie, a 23-year-old rookie out of the University of Illinois, shot 63 Friday at PGA National, the same day the World No. 1 withdrew midway through his round. Guthrie is at 9-under 131. He had a one-shot lead over Michael Thompson when the morning wave ended. In this strong international field, the leading two players Friday morning were both seeking their first PGA Tour victory.
Guthrie was a college golfer one year ago. He stayed in Champaign last week and got help with his putting from his college coach, former PGA Tour player Mike Small. It was a simple fix – Guthrie’s hands were too far back at address – that paid big dividends. He had just 26 putts Friday, and 29 in the Honda Classic’s first round.
He also hit 27 greens in the first two rounds and 20 of 28 fairways at a PGA National layout lined by high rough. The rookie said he was “pumped” for a potential appearance in Saturday’s final group. This is the second consecutive year a rookie has been in the final group on the weekend at the Honda Classic. Harris English played in the final group with eventual winner Rory McIlroy last year.
“I like playing in front of people, making birdies; they can kind of get you going, get the momentum rolling,” Guthrie said.
The top two players on the leaderboard play similar games. Both are medium-length hitters who keep the ball in play and rely on strong putting. Thompson hit 14 greens in each of the first two rounds.
“I’m a good putter, so if I can get on the green quickly, it doesn’t really matter where I am,” Thompson said. “I can make putts; I know I can.”
Guthrie turned pro after last year’s NCAA Championship. He finished in the top 20 in his first three PGA Tour starts before turning his focus to the Web.com Tour, where he finished second on the money list in just 10 starts. He won in back-to-back weeks and had six other top-10s.
He has made four of six cuts in his rookie PGA Tour season, finishing in the top 30 each time he has made the weekend. He has earned $213,753 in 2013.
Guthrie’s older brother, Zach, was the assistant coach at Illinois during Guthrie’s collegiate career. Zach, who played collegiate golf at Western Illinois, is caddying for his younger brother this year. Luke Guthrie closed his college career by winning back-to-back Big Ten titles, the first person to do so since Luke Donald and first Illini to accomplish the feat since Steve Stricker.
Thompson was runner-up at last year’s U.S. Open. His golf game is suited for layouts that put a premium on accuracy. His college coach, Alabama’s Jay Seawell, calls it “Michael Thompson golf.”
“Just keep plugging along, keep hitting greens and playing smart golf,” he said.
That type of play usually pays off at PGA National.