A group of guys arrived at the Honda Classic wearing brown, curly wigs to cheer on Rory McIlroy. The front of their shirts said, “Kiss Me, I’m Rory.” The back had next Monday’s new world rankings, with McIlroy at the No. 1 spot.
Rory needs a win to overtake Luke Donald for the top golfer in the world honors. Through the halfway mark, he’s just one shot off the lead at seven-under. As the cliche goes, there’s still a lot of golf left.
McIlroy had a ho-hum round until he birdied three of the last five holes to fire a three-under 67 — not too shabby at PGA National and in the afternoon, no less.
“I had a few chances early on and didn’t take them,” he said. “You know, sort of kept making pars and making pars, and broke that run with a bogey on 13 which was frustrating. But to bounce back from that and birdie three of the last five holes was nice and puts me in great position going into the weekend.”
His girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the world No. 4 tennis player, was in the gallery watching today.
“This golf course can make average golf look like very bad golf very suddenly,” said McIlroy, who speaks from experience. “So this course isn’t about making tons of birdies. It’s about keeping the big numbers off your card.”
Rory seems to have a better handle of the Bear Trap and the wind than he did last year at this tourney, but let’s hope we don’t see a repeat of last Saturday when he was mauled by the Bear Trap. Which isn’t likely to happen (I think he’s improved with bouncing back after a bad hole) tomorrow.
McIlroy is one shot back of co-leaders Tom Gillis, who saw the inside of a media center for the first time this morning, and Justin Rose, whom I naturally forgot to start in my Fantasy Golf lineup today.
Gillis is your quintessential journeyman and he’ll tell you that. Wait, he actually did.
“I’m your prototypical journeyman,” said Gillis, who will go to sleep with a share of the lead for the first time in his career. “I’ve been doing it almost 22 years now, played all over the world, 26 countries, played The European Tour, Asia, South Africa. So I think I’m probably my own worst enemy at the end of the day but I’m a lot better than I used to be. I would say, yeah, I’m a late bloomer.
“But that’s the great thing about this game is you keep yourself somewhat in condition, you can go quite a while. We’ve got a guy out here, Tom Pernice, who is exempt on both tours and is competitive. Guys like that, they give you a little motivation, because these young guys, they hit it far. Force us to get in the gym, which I don’t like much.”
Gillis admitted to some cracks in his mental game, which is probably why he hasn’t been in this position more often or ever before.
“My challenges are pretty much between my ears,” he said, candidly. “It’s not a talent issue. I can do it all out there. There’s not a guy out here all my friends know that, the guys that play out here. It’s a matter of time for me and just believing it.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I feel like we are going to start knocking on the door, that’s how I feel. And it’s strictly a mental state. That’s all it is. There’s nothing different physical. That’s all it is.”
Couldn’t have said it better. I completely agree with that statement in general.
Over/under he breaks par tomorrow? Umm…
Rose shot back-to-back 66s. I asked his caddie Mark Fulcher if I should bet on his horse this week. He gave me the thumbs-up and said Rose was striking the ball better and improving from the past few weeks. Well, of course he did! Actually, you’d be surprised. Some of these guys will tip you one way or the other if you ask (and if you know them). Anyway, I put Rose in my Fantasy Golf lineup, but somehow forgot to start him (idiot!).
“I like the style of golf that’s required here,” he said in his post-round presser. “Some weeks, the challenge is to make as many birdies as possible, and other weeks, it’s limit the mistakes. And this is definitely a limit the mistakes kind of golf course. I think it rewards good ballstriking. I think it rewards good thinking, and I like to play that style of golf.”
Rose does tend to finish well at tough tracks. His last three wins on the PGA Tour came at challenging venues — Muirfield, Aronimink and Cog Hill.
He got to 10-under through 14 holes (he started on No. 10), but dropped two shots on Nos. 6 and 7 when he missed two putts within eight feet to save par.
“I think when it blows around here, what I like about it is, par holds its position nicely and if you do go go out and play really, really, well you can make big inroads,” said Rose. “The year I finished third here, I shot 67, 64 on the weekend and think went from around the cut line to third.
“So, I think it’s good to be able to play that sort of venue. And this weekend, there will be guys who go out and shoot 67s and 66s. It’s just where they stack up right now. So obviously the halfway point, just see where everybody stands; but the guy who is going to win is going to play great this weekend.”
It’s supposed to get windy.
Q-school grad John Huh, aka, The Question Mark, who won last week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic, had a marquee group in the first two rounds. Huh played alongside major champs Ernie Els and Charl Schwartzel. The rookie held his own, firing 68-69, three-under, putting him at T18 going into the weekend — Schwartzel also shot three-under, while Els posted two-under. As impressive as his maiden victory was, it’s almost more impressive for him to play well at a tough course with that group. Pretty sure the galleries in the first two rounds were larger than when he shot 63 in the final round in Mexico and during the eight-hole playoff against Robert Allenby.
Huh said he started the first round nervous, but settled in.
“After I saw my shots, I said, you know, I can play with those guys,” said Huh on Friday. “Then I just tried to be friendly, talk to them, nice to them and they were nice. They told me congrats on my win. It was fun and good.”
Interesting enough, Huh doesn’t usually play well in blustery conditions. (It was really windy last week in Mexico, too.)
“Actually I don’t really play good in windy conditions, but recently, I’ve just come out really hot,” he admitted. “All you gotta do is hit the fairway, greens and make some putts, you know.”
Yeah, that usually makes things pretty easy.
Meanwhile, as I wrote earlier, fellow rookie and Q-school grad Brian Harman shot a red-hot nine-under 61 to smash the course record by three whole shots. His former University of Georgia teammate, Harris English, also a freshman who got through Q-school last December, is playing quite well, too. Harman and English just missed being paired together on Saturday.
English, who has now made six cuts in six starts, is tied for eighth after shooting 66-69, five-under total. This might be the kiss of death, but when a friend asked me for a pick earlier this week, I immediately said, “Harris English, even though he’s a rookie and they don’t usually play well here.” Thing is, Harris hits it long and straight — his favorite and straightest club is his driver (though he had a few errant tee shots the past two days) — which is usually very important at PGA National because there’s so much water and trouble.
He finished in the near-dark on Thursday evening, admitting he couldn’t read his 10-footer for birdie on 18.
“I really had no idea where it was going,” said Harris. “I just played it center and hit it. I didn’t really want to come back in the morning, so I was just glad to get it over with.”
Apparently his eyes aren’t great, anyway, and he should probably look into getting some glasses or contacts (might be an advantage sometimes if you can’t see past 150 yards, though!).
“I can’t see much of anything,” he told me, with a grin, like he was making fun of himself.
Harris jumped on the bogey train in the middle of his round, posting three in a row on Nos. 18, 1 and 2 (started on No. 10), but bounced back nicely to get back under par.
“It was really good,” he said, referring to his first 36 holes. “I played well and kept my composure very well today. I had a stumble on my 9th, 10th and 11th hole, but I came back. I played solid coming in. But overall, I played well and happy to be at 5-under for the tournament.”
From what I’ve seen and heard, he’s playing better than he’s scoring. Just get rid of those silly mistakes and play smart this weekend. I have to look into this, but not sure if anyone else has made six of six cuts this year…
Not to end on a sour note, but man, I feel bad for Jamie Lovemark, the 2010 Nationwide Tour of the Year who spent most of last year on the DL. After shooting 72-81, he tweeted:
I feel like I’m in a nightmare I can’t wake up from.
— Jamie Lovemark (@jamielovemark) March 2, 2012
Hope he figure it out and gets back on track soon…
(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)