5 Things: Guthrie, Thompson tied for lead heading into Sunday

Luke Guthrie is all smiles after a birdie putt at No. 8 during the Honda Classic on Saturday.
Luke Guthrie is all smiles after a birdie putt at No. 8 during the Honda Classic on Saturday. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Sunday, March 3, 2013

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic began with the world’s top two players in the field. Its final pairing will feature two players chasing their first PGA Tour victory. Luke Guthrie and Michael Thompson are tied for first at 8-under 202, two shots ahead of a major champion (Geoff Ogilvy) and former World No. 1 (Lee Westwood). Here’s 5 Things you need to know from the Honda Classic:

1. STEADY DOES IT: Luke Guthrie was one of the year’s promising rookies after finishing second on the Web.com Tour money list in just 10 starts. He’s lived up to the billing thus far in the Honda Classic. Guthrie, who started Saturday with a one-shot lead, shot 1-over 71 in windy conditions at PGA National. The third-round scoring average was 72.7, 2.4 strokes higher than the combined average of the first two rounds.

“I played smart, solid golf, stayed away from the trouble,” Guthrie said. He made four of six cuts entering this week, finishing in the top 30 each time he’s made the weekend. Guthrie parred his final eight holes Saturday to shoot 71.

This is the second consecutive year a rookie has made his way into the Honda Classic’s final group. Last year, Harris English played with Tom Gillis and a player seeking the No. 1 ranking in the world, Rory McIlroy. Guthrie will be paired with another player yet to win on the PGA Tour, Michael Thompson.

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2. ON A ROLL: Michael Thompson reached the par-5 18th in two and two-putted for birdie to tie Guthrie for the lead. Thompson, the 2012 U.S. Open runner-up, has held the 54-hole lead once in his career: at the 2011 McGladrey Classic, where he finished third.

Thompson hit just three greens on the front nine Saturday, but shot 1-under 34. He played the final seven holes in 1 under after bogeying Nos. 10 and 11. He missed just one of the final seven greens.

“My short game saved me,” Thompson said. “My putting saved me. I just fought through it. Just stayed positive, stayed patient, let things happen and never got down on myself, never got upset and that’s the way I like to play golf.”

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3. CLOSEST PURSUERS: Lee Westwood and Geoff Ogilvy both shot 70 Saturday and are two shots off the lead.

Ogilvy is seeking his first victory since the 2010 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He’s also trying to earn his way back into the Masters and WGC-Cadillac Championship, which he won in 2008. He was No. 51 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of last year; the top 50 earned Masters invitations. Ogilvy has slipped to 79th in the world after missing his last four cuts. The OWGR’s top 50 after Sunday earn spots in the Cadillac Championship, as do the top 10 in the FedEx Cup. He could earn a Masters bid by winning here or returning to the OWGR’s top 50 by April 1.

Westwood also won his last PGA Tour event in 2010, at the St. Jude Classic. He also won the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic. “If you look at my career, I haven’t won enough over in the States,” Westwood said. “I’ve put myself in position a lot but just haven’t finished it up.”

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4. FINISHING KICK: Rickie Fowler’s birdie-eagle finish pulled him within three shots of the lead. He hit a 9-iron at the par-3 17th to 3 feet, then reached the par-5 finishing hole with a hybrid and sank the 14-foot putt. Fowler is tied for fifth with Charles Howell III, who opened the season with three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a third-place finish at the Sony Open and playoff loss at the Humana.

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5. SHORT SHOTS: How tough was PGA National playing Sunday? Y.E. Yang made the cut with a shot to spare, then shot 3-under 67 Saturday. He’ll start the final round tied for seventh, just four shots out of the lead. ... Darron Stiles regained his PGA Tour card after finishing 17th on the Web.com Tour money list. He’s missed three of four cuts this year, though, and had to Monday qualify for the Honda. He’s T-12 through three rounds at 3-under 207 after shooting consecutive 68s. Stiles eagled the par-5 third and birdied the next two holes to reach 4 under for the day. He followed with three consecutive bogeys, then birdied No. 9 to make the turn in 33. His back nine was a little more consistent. He made seven pars, one bogey and one birdie. ... Tiger Woods shot a third consecutive 70 and moved up 33 spots on the leaderboard to T-32. His Saturday playing partner, David Lynn, shot 68. ... Billy Horschel birdied the third hole to reach 6 under for the tournament. He played the next 15 holes in 12 over to shoot 81.

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