PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy put together the best opening-36-holes putting performance of his career during the first two rounds of the 2014 Honda Classic and took a 1-shot lead over Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge.
McIlroy needed only 49 putts to shoot 63-66—129 (11 under), his best opening rounds on PGA Tour since shooting 130 en route to winning the 2012 Deutsche Bank Championship.
De Jonge’s 6-under 64 was the third-best round of the day, after the 63s by John Senden and Russell Knox.
Russell Henley shot 68 and is in solo third at 8 under. Lee Westwood and Knox are tied for fourth at 7 under. Jamie Donaldson, Ryan Palmer, Will McGirt, Daniel Summerhays, Chris Stroud, Boo Weekley, Thomas Bjorn, Luke Donald, Derek Ernst, Will MacKenzie and Brendan Steele are tied with Senden for ninth at 5 under.
Tiger Woods shot 71-69 to make the cut on the number at even-par 140.
Here are 5 Things to know from PGA National:
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1. NO QUIT IN TIGER: Tiger Woods straddled the cut line throughout Friday’s second round of the Honda Classic. Woods carded a 1-under 69 at PGA National’s Champion Course to make the 36-hole cut at even-par 140.
Never one to hang his head and throw in the towel, Woods refused to go quietly. Playing in front of his mother, his two children and girlfriend Lindsey Vonn, Woods recorded his first sub-70 round on the PGA Tour in 2013-14.
And yet at times, he played horribly off key. His 69 consisted of three birdies offset by two bogeys. Woods missed five greens in a row, from the 10th through the 14th holes. His short game looked tuned to a fine point again and kept bailing him out. The highlight was a chip-in for birdie at No. 13 after a sloppy wedge shot from the fairway.
“I hit a terrible shot there,” Woods conceded, “but I was able to lift, clean and place it, and I placed it on the first cut, which was nice. And that gave me a nice cushion and I was able to spin it.”
It was one of several times he escaped harm, prompting Woods to say a negative had become a positive. With two rounds remaining, he wasn’t ready to hand the title to Rory McIlroy – or anyone else just yet.
“Anything can happen on the weekend,” he said.
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2. HOME SWEET HOME: Lee Westwood moved to South Florida a year ago, but the way he plays PGA National makes it seem as if he’s been a resident of the area for a lot longer.
Shooting 68-65, Westwood recorded his seventh and eighth rounds in the 60s in six appearances at the Honda Classic.
In those six events, Westwood has a scoring average of 137.33 in the first two rounds, almost three shots under par on a course that by any measure is one of the most difficult on Tour.
“I really enjoy playing this golf course,” Westwood said after his round, which puts him in the second-to-last group in Saturday’s third round. “It’s a demanding test. There are a lot of holes out there where there are no bailout. You’ve got to stand up there and hit your shot. It’s a major?style golf course, in certain ways.”
The problem for Westwood is his third-round scoring average of 72.40 – and he has not broken 70 in the past five times he played the Honda Classic.
But 2014 might be different. Westwood started the season unsure of his game and looking for some help. The Englishman brought former caddie Billy Foster back to the bag. Westwood also dropped instructor Sean Foley and recently brought on Mike Walker, a Pete Cowen disciple.
The same Cowen worked with Westwood two separate times and got him to the pinnacle of the game, World No. 1.
“It’s just me getting it in better positions again and gradually building up the confidence with it,” Westwood said of his work with Walker. “I started in L.A. (two weeks ago at the Northern Trust Open, where he tied for 20th) and I started to hit it better and then the Match Play (last week, a second-round loss) is just one of them weeks; didn’t really have a chance to see what it was like. I played great and shot 6 under and going home, but you can’t let that get you down. And then this week I just tried to carry on, where I left off in L.A. really.”
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3. SURPRISE, SURPRISE: There was the explosiveness of Rory McIlroy that dominated the morning wave and the sloppiness of Tiger Woods that stole the afternoon spotlight. Lost in between, though it shouldn’t be overlooked, was the steady play of Brendon de Jonge.
Credit a putting tip from his annual host when he visits this tournament, Nick Price, or credit a better frame of mind, but the Zimbabwean is in the thick of things through two rounds – and that’s far different than his recent stretch of play.
“I think we were a little bit lucky toward the end when (the wind) died,” said de Jonge after backing up a 66 with a 64 to get to 10 under and just one off of McIlroy’s lead. “But you know, it’s a tough golf course, and as I say, thrilled to death.”
Even more so because of some recent bumps – missed cuts at the Farmers and the Northern Trust sandwiching a T-53 at the Waste Management Open. Given that de Jonge had ended the 2013 season with a stellar effort in the Presidents Cup, he’s disappointed to have gotten into a bad stretch. But this week could change much of that.
If it revolves around a positive mindset, de Jonge showed that he’s up to the task, because even though he ended his day with what he called a “soft bogey” at the par-4 ninth when he was well short of the green with his approach from just 135 yards, “there’s a lot of good work done before that that I’m going to look back on.”
Indeed, there was. Like a birdie right out of the gates, at the brutally tough par-4 10th, where de Jonge hit a hybrid from 229 yards to 4 feet to make a rare birdie on that hole. Or the fact that he followed with birdies at Nos. 11, 12, 14 and 18 to turn in 30, then added birdies at Nos. 3, 5 and 8.
Good stuff, all of it, and that it puts him in position to play in the final group Saturday with McIlroy, all the better.
“I feel very comfortable. I’ve been out here long enough now,” said de Jonge, who in his seventh year on Tour is still looking for his first win. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
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4. PGA NATIONAL NOT RIGHT FOR LEFTY: Phil Mickelson came to South Florida with plans to play four rounds at PGA National before making the trip to Doral. But after rounds of 70-71, Mickelson now has time off and is not sure what he’s going to do for the weekend.
There is nothing specific to point to in Mickelson’s two rounds, hitting 21 of 28 fairways, 22 of 36 greens in regulation and 56 total putts.
“I drove the ball well,” Mickelson said after his second round. “I hit 75 percent of my fairways. That’s a good thing for me. I’m starting to drive the ball well. What I normally do well on my iron play was distance control (which) was off; it just wasn’t sharp. And I didn’t putt as well as I had expected. I didn’t put bad but I didn’t putt great.”
Mickelson had chances Friday with an 8-footer on the second hole and a 9-footer on the eighth hole; neither of them converted. In fact, Mickelson didn’t make a putt longer than 7 feet in the second round.
“I had a hard time making birdies today,” said Mickelson, who birdied Nos. 14 and 18. “I don’t know what it was. When I hit a reasonable shot, I missed the putt, and I don’t know, I just had a hard time making birdies.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: While some had a good time of it at PGA National, at the other end of the standings it was a different story. Most heartbreaking, Padraig Harrington. In position to make the cut at level par, Harrington drove it into a group of trees down the left of his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth. Apparently, when he went to move debris, he touched his golf ball and thus called a penalty on himself. To observers, it appeared as if Harrington had a 6-footer to make par and make the cut, but in reality he was putting for bogey and he missed to shoot 74. . . . When finally the last drop of sunlight was gone, the cut fell at level-par 140 and 79 players had made the cut. . . . Phil Mickelson was outside the cut, as was Henrik Stenson, whose 76–149 was his highest score since he shot that same number in missing the cut at Wells Fargo last May. . . . Another painful departure was Thorbjorn Olesen. He was level par with two holes to play. But he three-putted for bogey from 20 feet at the par-4 eighth, then three putted from 2 1/2 feet at the ninth. . . . Lucas Glover missed a fifth consecutive cut. . . . Hideki Matsuyama, who had opened with 70, withdrew, citing a wrist injury. It’s his third WD in his last eight tournaments, dating to Las Vegas last fall. . . . Jeff Overton will go off as a single in Round 3 at 7:33 a.m. EST, after which Tiger Woods will be paired with Luke Guthrie, then Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia. The Woods-Garcia watch was on, and for a while it appeared as if they would be paired, but it was not to be.
– Jim McCabe and Adam Schupak contributed