Tiger Stalls, Rory Walks and Guthrie Leads by One

Friday didn’t quite work out for the big names at the Honda Classic at the PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Tiger Woods has been becalmed for two days, shooting even par each day. Good thing. The cut was even par. He actually played better Friday than the score would indicate. He made a double bogey on 13 because he drove it in the fairway bunker, had to get it up quickly because of the lip and came down short and steep in the front bunker. It plugged badly. He gouged it out over the back of the green and two-putted to save a double. 

He had the same situation on the par-5 18th. He drove it long and on a very aggressive line to carry the bunkers on the dogleg left…he was just short. But he drove it so far, he went in with a 5-iron…that hooked up against the grandstands. He got a drop into grass that had either been trampled or was sketchy to begin with and gouged it onto the green; a poor result but a good shot under the circumstances. He two-putted for his par to make the cut.

Which leaves us with circumstances we don’t often see: Tiger will start in the second to the last group with England’s David Lynn…at 8:15. The leaders go at 1:40.

There was one other notable circumstance we don’t often see: Rory McIlroy walking off after completing just eight holes. He blamed the distraction of a tooth ache. He made double bogey on 11, bogey on 13, triple bogey on 16, bogey on 17, hit his approach shot on 18 into the lake and without finishing the hole, politely shook his fellow competitors’ hands, and walked off.

According to Doug Ferguson at the AP, McIlroy told three reporters who followed him to his car that it was nothing physical but that he was “not in a good place mentally.” An hour later, he released a statement through his management company that he couldn’t concentrate because of a sore wisdom tooth.

Luke Guthrie on the other hand pretty much had it all going his way with a seven-birdie 63 on the par-70 Champion course. That was the low round of the day by two shots. He began by agreeing that it was extremely important to hit the fairways:

For sure, around this place, this rough is pretty gnarly around here.

But even when you do hit the fairways, you run the risk of an uncontrollable mud ball; the course had a lot of rain coming into Thursday when they played lift, clean and place. But they played the ball down on Friday.

I didn’t have too many bad [mud balls].  I mean, it’s an outdoor sport, so you kind of live and die by that a little bit.  You might get mud balls, you might not, got to deal with it.

I got one on 6.  I had some mud on the right of the ball, and obviously the lake left, so I was a little nervous, just gave myself a little cushion, aim further right and it worked out pretty well.  Drew right in there.  So I think the mud actually helped me there on the drawback into the wind.

Yeah, it’s tough.  You’re going to get them.  You have to deal with them but that’s how it is.

One of the hardest lessons to learn in golf is that your best laid plans and shots don’t always work out. If you just be with that fact in “acceptance” instead of “upset,” the world will have more of a pleasing sheen on it rather than the darkness of blood-red anger. Guthrie has apparently learned that lesson.

Many people may remember that Scott Langley and Russell Henley were paired together in the first two rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii. With all that they accomplished — Langley led after the first round and Henley won the tournament in his first outing as a PGA Tour rookie — some might forget that Guthrie was the third in that group. But more to the point, they have all come out believing that they can win:

I mean, I played junior golf, college golf, so we all know each other pretty well.  Obviously Scott’s my teammate [at Illinois].  I mean, it’s just great to see those guys playing well right away.  We all believe, the rookies coming out, believe that we can compete right now and win right now.  With their performance coming right out of the gate, it just proved it in the first tournament.

So obviously gives all of us a little more confidence coming out here and competing against them in the Web.com, Russell, all last year, and everyone else knows that we can do it then.

And you could say that rather than being intimidated by playing in the last group, he’s really excited by the prospect:

I’m pumped for it.  I don’t think I’ve got to the final group yet.  I was about three groups off at the John Deere last year I think.  I can’t wait for that.  Hopefully whoever I’m playing with [Michael Thompson], I don’t know if it’s twosomes or threesomes [twosomes, all off the first tee], but I like playing in front of people, making birdies, they can kind of get you going, get the momentum rolling.  I’m looking forward to it.

Guthrie also has a lot of wisdom when it comes to living life large:

Did you set any goals at the start of the year that you would share, or be willing to?

First goal I didn’t achieve, I’ll share, that I wanted to get to the Match Play [for which you have to be ranked No. 64 in the world rankings or better].  But besides that, win a tournament.  I keep it pretty simple.  I want to win.  Obviously you want to keep your card, but not a huge fan of that goal, because that kind of…

Keeping your card?

Keeping your card, that’s obviously a goal but that puts a ceiling on you a little bit.  Obviously you want to get in the Playoffs and go deep and make a run and get into the majors.

So you don’t see keeping your card, it’s almost setting the bar too low in terms of limiting yourself?

Yeah, you just don’t want to limit yourself.  Obviously that is a goal, but not the end all, be all.  That will happen if I take care of my business and try to go out there every tournament and try to win.

So young Mr. Guthrie is on his way. I happened to see him play in person in Phoenix. He was paired with the Monday qualifier I wrote about during that week, John Hurley, and the Canadian who played so well in La Jolla the week before, Brad Fritsch.

He didn’t play that well in the first round, but you could see that he could. The things I noticed about him were that he looked sharp: athletic, fit, nicely attired [down to his shoes] and clean shaven.

But the other thing I noticed was that compared to Hurley and Fritsch, he was very deliberate. I sometimes was dismayed at how long it took him to hit a shot or a putt; a lot of analytical pacing. It easily could just be attributed to being meticulous; it fit his overall look.

So I am looking forward to seeing what he’s learned since Phoenix. After Friday’s round, you’d have to say that he’s learned a lot.

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