PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic’s position between two World Golf Championships means the tournament draws a strong international field. Two winless 20-somethings top the leaderboard, though, as the world’s top two players have struggled:
1. WALK OFF: Rory McIlroy didn’t finish Friday’s round, but he was by far the biggest story. The World No. 1 was 7 over after eight holes, and had hit his second shot into water right of the par-5 18th, before walking off the course. McIlroy cited a toothache, though he’d previously told reporters that nothing was bothering him physically. “I’m not in a good place mentally, you know?” he told reporters in PGA National’s parking lot.
At least three times on his quarter-mile walk from the 18th hole to the parking lot McIlroy was asked if there was anything wrong with him physically. Three times he answered, “No.”
McIlroy has played three events this year, playing just 4 1/2 rounds. He is scheduled to play next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship. With no cut, it should be the first time he plays 72 holes in one week in 2013.
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2. BARELY THERE: Unlike McIlroy, Tiger Woods will be around for the weekend. He made the Honda Classic cut. Barely. Woods fired two consecutive 70s to make the cut on the number. He was outside the cut line after a double bogey at the par-4 13th, but birdied the next hole to return to even par. He parred the final four holes to make the cut, despite finding a bunker on each of the final three holes.
McIlroy and Woods finished 1-2 here last year. Neither is in contention now.
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3. BACK TO SCHOOL: Luke Guthrie, who finished No. 2 on the 2012 Web.com Tour money list, is the 36-hole leader at 9-under 131 (68-63). Guthrie, who was playing college golf this time last year, visited his alma mater last week and received putting advice from his college coach that has paid off. Guthrie played college golf at Illinois under former PGA Tour player Mike Small.
Small told Guthrie that his hands were too far back at address when putting. Guthrie has needed just 55 putts in the first two rounds. He also hit 27 greens and 20 of 28 fairways at a PGA National layout lined by high rough.
The rookie said he was “pumped” for his 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.
Guthrie 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. A win would earn Guthrie a spot in next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.
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4. ON A ROLL: Guthrie will be joined in the final group by 2012 U.S. Open runner-up Michael Thompson, who’s also seeking his first PGA Tour victory. 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.
Both Thompson and Guthrie 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.”
He’s showed that thus far, needing 56 putts in the first two rounds.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Jamie Donaldson, the world’s No. 31 player, had to Monday qualify for this week’s event. A second-round 66 allowed him to make the cut with a stroke to spare. He shot 73-66. … Lee Westwood is three shots off the lead after shooting 66-68. … Justin Rose’s success here continues. Rose, who’s finished in the top 5 in his past two appearances here, is also 6 under par and three off the lead. … First-round leader Camilo Villegas missed the cut after shooting a second-round 77. He shot 64 Thursday. Other notables to miss the cut: Seung-Yul Noh, Harris English, Charlie Beljan, Bud Cauley, John Merrick, Louis Oosthuizen, Ryo Ishikawa, David Duval, J.B. Holmes and Paul Casey.