Notes: McIlroy just latest to fold with 54-hole lead

When Rory McIlroy lost his lead at Honda on Sunday, he was one of eight players that have folded with the 54-hole lead in 14 starts on the PGA Tour this season.

Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic was the latest 54-hole leader who failed to hold on and win. Only 6 of 14 third-round leaders have won this year, which on top of last year’s 17 of 38 means that the rate of success is less than 50 percent (23 of 52) since 2012.

All of which makes that part of the Tiger Woods aura even more remarkable. In his career, Woods has had the 54-hole lead 65 times in both PGA Tour and European PGA Tour events, and 58 times he has gone on to win.

From the 2005 Masters to the 2009 Buick Open he was successful 17 consecutive times and earlier in his career he prevailed in this situation 15 straight times.

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THE GOOD RORY: Carl Pettersson was paired with McIlroy at the 2012 PGA Championship when the young man showed he’s quite capable of nailing things shut.

McIlroy led the Swede by three going into the final round, shot 66, and buried the field by eight.

“When he’s on, he’s a machine,” said Pettersson, who admires that McIlroy tends to keep his foot on the pedal so that he can build on his lead, not nurse it.

“Which is a good trait. When he’s got the driver in the slot, he’s tough to beat. He’s long, really long and when he’s playing good, it’s fun to watch.”

Of course, it wasn’t so much fun Sunday as McIlroy started the day with a two-stroke lead, shot 4-over 74, and squandered the Honda Classic, eventually losing in a four-way playoff. To Pettersson, it just proves how difficult it is to hang on to the third-round lead.

“You’re playing with all the pressure. When you have the lead, you feel like everyone is staring at you. You feel like a fish in a bowl and if you’re not used to that, it makes it difficult.”

• • •

NO DEFENSE FOR SOME: It’s also been a rough ride thus far in 2014 for defending champions. Of the eight tournaments that have been played, only Dustin Johnson at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (T-6) has finished inside the top 40.

Four defending champions have missed the cut (Brian Gay, Humana; Brandt Snedeker, AT&T Pebble Beach; John Merrick, Northern Trust; Michael Thompson, Honda), though you could make it five if you count Tiger Woods’ MDF after three rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open.

All of which doesn’t bode well for Woods at the Cadillac Championship.

• • •

GOOD TIME HAD BY ALL: There was the usual assembly of Who’s Who in competitive golf circles – from Arnold Palmer to Phil Mickelson – and when the final numbers were crunched Monday evening, quiet and unheralded Roberto Castro was claiming a piece of a prestigious championship.

OK, so it wasn’t a PGA Tour event, but the Seminole Pro-Member might come close when it comes to passion, emotion, and pedigree. “It was an unbelievable event, a very unique club. Very understated, just the roots of golf there,” said the third-year PGA Tour member of Seminole, the famed club in Juno Beach, Fla., that hosts this special invitational the Monday after the Honda Classic is played.

Castro and his partner shot a 61 in the morning, a score that was matched in the afternoon by Rory Sabbatini and his partner. Castro said his team was awarded low net, Sabbatini’s team got low gross, and that was perfect for the former Georgia Tech standout. He gets his name on “the mahogany” inside the clubhouse where it will hang forever.

“For a first-timer, I’m excited,” said Castrol. “It’s very cool.”

And the day, which attracted the likes of 2013 major winners Mickelson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, and Jason Dufner? Castro couldn’t have enjoyed it any more.

“Show up, hit balls, play your round, have lunch. It was fun, all fun.”

• • •

GOOD VIBES: Should this sort of magic continues, some players may be reaching out to see if they could grab even a corner of a guest room at the home Seth and Sheila Waugh. Their houseguests, you see, have a knack for doing special things after receiving great hospitality.

For several years, Justin Rose has accepted an invitation to stay with the Waughs in North Palm Beach, Fla., during the Honda Classic. One year he won the Seminole Pro-Member during a visit, then he went on to Doral, Fla., and won the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

This year, Rose chose to withdraw from the Honda and rest a tender shoulder, but no worries. Another annual guest, Billy Hurley III, got in as a last-minute alternate in place of Scott Verplank, shot four rounds of par or better at a grueling PGA National, finished fifth, and earned his second largest PGA Tour paycheck, $240,000.

• • •

GIVE HIM A TPC: They pop up on the PGA Tour schedule frequently and that’s quite all right with Brendan Steele. We’re talking TPC courses and Steele hasn’t found many that don’t agree with him.

In fact, in his 23 PGA Tour starts on TPC courses, Steele has finished within the top-15 10 times, including a win at TPC San Antonio where he also has a share of fourth. TPC Scottsdale (T-5, T-6, T-6 the last three years) is another that suits him and so, too, TPC Summerlin (T-16, T-13).

“I think generally they are pretty modern courses, they are a little longer, (you can hit) a few more drivers, and they’re not narrow, but they’re not wide. They give you space to hit driver, but once you hit it off line, you’re in trouble.

“Courses where you hit a lot of drivers generally are good for me.”

Coming off of a T-33 at the Honda Classic, Steele is 43rd in the FedEx Cup standings and feels good about where he’s at with his game.

“It’s been a work in progress with my swing, for sure. My swing’s a little more under control these days; I know a little more what I’m going to get. I struggled a lot in ’12 and last year with my swing, just not knowing where the ball was going to come out.”

• • •

STUARD’S STRANGE TREND: One would have to say that Brian Stuard has things figured out when it comes to the start of his season. As he did in 2013, the unheralded 31-year-old from Michigan has himself in solid position into the Florida swing.

He’s presently 13th in the FedEx Cup standings, having made the cut in eight of his 10 starts, with three top 10s and two others inside the top 25. It’s also a carbon copy of 2013 when Stuard made the cut in each of his first eight cuts, with three top 10s and three others inside the top 30.

So, what gives? Why such a strong starter?

“You’ve got me. I wish I knew,” said Stuard, who knows we can’t credit his upbringing because “I’m not a West Coast guy.”

His consistency has been uncanny. He was T-5 at the Sony a year ago, sixth this year; at the Humana he was T-10 last season, fifth this year; he’s gone T-39 and T-28 at the Farmers, T-29 and T-24 at the Honda. Of course, he’ll be looking to improve upon last year’s T-43 when he tees it up in Puerto Rico this week, just as he hopes not to repeat what happened in 2013 when he missed the cut in 10 of his last 17 starts and had but one top 10.

“It’s nice to get off to a good start, but hopefully I can play a little better this summer,” said Stuard.

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