Notes: Pride's journey to Honda Classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – And now, from the unglamorous side of the pro golf world, we introduce Dicky Pride.
He plays from that locale of the PGA Tour world where full-exempt status does not exist, where plans can’t be made, where the words “but, if” are always attached to schedules.
Not that he’s complaining, mind you. He realizes the correction to all of this is to play better and there’s also the reality of the Nationwide Tour. “It’s a wonderful place to play,” he said.
In fact, had life been as he had planned it, Pride would be in Panama right now for the Nationwide’s Panama Claro Championship. He had the Mexico-to-Panama-to-San Juan (next week’s opposite-field Puerto Rico Open) ticket all set. Then came a curve ball, for the best of reasons. Darned if he didn’t go on to shoot 68-66 on the weekend to finish T-5 at the Mayakoba Classic and thus earn a top-10 exemption into this week’s Honda Classic.
“When you add a zero to the purse ($550,000 in Panama; $5,700,000 at the Honda, so you get the point), it’s not hard to decide,” said the 42-year-old Pride, who hasn’t had full exempt status on the PGA Tour since 2007.
Honda Classic: Round 1
Stay tuned as we provide photos throughout Round 1 of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Of course, there was the matter of changing his travel plans. Instead of flying to Panama, Pride opted to go to his home in Orlando, where he could do laundry and then casually drive to the Honda. Fearing the evils of those change fees that airlines assess, Pride remembered that it had been suggested by Wendy Whitney of the PGA Tour travel department that he opt for the refundable ticket. It cost just $50 more and turned out to be a brilliant move.
“I acted like a genius, but I can assure you I’m not actually a genius,” said Pride, laughing. Then he gave credit to Whitney.
Given a chance for his first PGA Tour event (outside of Mayakoba) since last year’s opposite-field event in Reno, Nev., Pride is off to a sterling start. With four birdies in six holes to start his second nine, Pride shot 4-under 66 to trail the leader, Davis Love III, by two.
NOW HE’S REALLY SICK: There’s never a good time to get sick. But Jonas Blixt’s timing was especially painful.
Suffering from what his agent, Ben Harrison, called a sinus infection, Blixt was not at PGA National on Thursday morning when word was announced that Ian Poulter was withdrawing. Because Richard Lee already had been placed into the field with the withdrawal of Alex Cejka (elbow), Blixt was the next alternate in.
Only thing is, he was home in Orlando, and with the next alternate, Mark D. Anderson, in Panama for this week’s Nationwide Tour stop, the call went to Miguel Angel Carballo, who got an opportunity that Blixt would have loved.
“He’s gutted he isn’t playing with Tiger, but he just couldn’t do it,” Harrison said.
That’s right, Carballo drew the 12:30 p.m. group off the first tee, alongside the esteemed Mr. Woods and Lee Westwood.
Even more disheartening is this – Blixt had just lost ground on the reshuffle, dropping from eighth to 21st, so playing opportunities will be even rarer in coming weeks.
As for Carballo, he “is usually very calm, but got very excited when he learned he was playing with Woods,” said the player’s agent, Jaoquin Navasal.
Carballo, playing in his sixth tournament of the season, got the news at 9 a.m. and was able to go through with plans for a pre-round massage.
BLAME IT ON BILL HAAS: Mark Wilson was moving on nicely, at 2 under and just a few strokes off the lead when he played “for a cut wind” at the 195-yard, par-3 fifth, his 14th hole.
“But it never cut,” Wilson said, and it stayed on line to the left of the green. With his golf ball in a hazard, Wilson sized up the situation and figured he could play the shot. “It was only two-thirds under water,” Wilson said. “I figured I’d try a Bill Haas.”
Last fall, Haas won the Tour Championship in dramatic fashion, in part because he saved par on the first playoff hole by hitting a recovery shot on a ball that was partially submerged next to the 17th green.
Wilson’s effort didn’t quite match. He took a full swing, but moved the ball only a few yards; it then rolled back into the water and he had to take a drop. He wound up making a triple bogey, but a birdie at his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth, at least salvaged an even-par 70.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE CADDIE: In preparation for his Masters debut, Brendan Steele recently had the chance to play a round at vaunted Augusta National. While he searched for the words to describe the experience – “I was blown away by how beautiful it is” – he was especially thrilled to report that his caddie, Nick Wilkins, got to play along because they were with a member.
Conceding he was a bit rusty and hadn’t played in a while, Wilkins was nonetheless humble and needed his boss, Steele, to point out the highlights. Seems that Wilkins, who played from the tips with Steele, hit a 3-wood in fairly tight at the par-4 11th, made par, then made par at the famed par-3 12th. When he birdied the par-5 13th, it meant he had played Amen Corner in 1 under.
“Pretty cool,” Steele said.
GOOD ROLL CONTINUES: With the course softer and the wind lighter, all but two of the best nine scores were posted in the morning. The exceptions were youngsters Seung-Yul Noh and Harris English, who were paired together and each shot 4-under 66 in the afternoon to join six others two strokes off of Davis Love III’s lead.
It puts English in position to make his sixth cut in as many starts, certainly an impressive start for the 22-year-old from the University of Georgia. His lone bogey came at the par-3 15th, and English was undaunted by falling darkness. Truthfully, his group probably could have asked for a stoppage in play at the 18th, “but I didn’t want to come back early in the morning.” So while he couldn’t see well, English played out the 18th and lipped out a 10-foot birdie try. Still, no regrets.
“It’s like what we did as kids, playing 36 till dark,” he said. “It’s what you look forward to, playing late on Sunday.”
The next group to come along wasn’t quite as fortunate, because neither Colt Knost nor Bobby Gates finished the 18th. Gates knew it was futile when he hit his shot into the 18th green and couldn’t see it at all. Turns out it went into the grandstands and he took a free drop and will finish the hole Friday morning.
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IRISH EYES SMILE THROUGH DANGER: The heralded stretch of holes at PGA National known as “The Bear Trap” in honor of course re-designer Jack Nicklaus – the par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th – can’t scare Padraig Harrington.
He was 2 over when he got there, and with birdies at 15 and 17, he left at level par and conceded, “I’m happy.”
He’s also pretty good on those demanding holes, now 7 under for the nine rounds he has played here at PGA National.
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HE’S STILL GOT GAME: Though he’s a member of the Champions Tour, Tom Pernice Jr. still has the heart to play here. He matched his low round of the year, a 3-under 67, which did nothing to curb his thirst for the big show.
“I can still compete out here, and as long as I feel I can compete out here and I get the opportunity to play out here, this is where I would like to be,” said Pernice, who finished 121st on the money list a year ago and is determined to stay inside the top 125 in 2012.
SHORT SHOTS: Scott Langley, the 2010 NCAA champion out of Illinois, shot even-par 70 after Monday qualifying for the event. Langley has played four PGA Tour events, but this is just his second as a pro. He finished 16th at the 2010 U.S. Open. He lives with PGA Tour players Rickie Fowler and Cameron Tringale, as well as former college standout Morgan Hoffmann, in nearby Jupiter. . . . Kyle Stanley’s first-round 75 was his highest PGA Tour round since shooting 77 in Round 3 of last summer’s Open Championship. Stanley, winner of the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, was the 36-hole leader at last year’s Honda Classic. . . . Arjun Atwal, who shot 10-over 80, is a numbing 33 over par in his past seven PGA Tour rounds.
–Alex Miceli and Sean Martin contributed