The consensus of the players about Saturday at the Honda Classic was that PGA National’s Champion Course was all you would ever want.
Michael Thompson, who finished T2 at last year’s U.S. Open and is tied for the lead with Luke Guthrie after 54 holes, likened it to a U.S. Open setup:
You mentioned before your round, you mentioned U.S. Open, condition‑like. After you’ve played, do you still stand by that reference to the U.S. Open‑esque conditions?
Yes, the rough is definitely exactly like a U.S. Open. You hit it in the rough and you know, as you saw me, I’m not the strongest guy in the world but I’m not a weakling, either.
I can’t even advance it to the green, especially hitting it over water and so you just have to take your medicine and make your bogey, just try to eliminate the doubles out here and just try to play smart golf and know that you’re going to make a couple birdies. I got lucky with a hole‑out from a bunker on 6, I believe. And you know, just keep pushing on.
So that’s what I’ve done this week, just played really smart golf and you know, try to continue to do it tomorrow and hopefully I can hit the ball a little bit better tomorrow, but you know, it is what it is, and I’m excited to have another opportunity to play in the final group.
When you find yourself in a situation like this, it is imperative that you remain patient. It feels like you’re making mistakes and slipping backwards, but so is everyone else. Of the 75 players who made the cut, only 8 of them broke par and only one of them — Y.E. Yang — got to 3-under on the day. The scoring average for the field went from Friday’s 70.475 to 72.747, just over a sobering 2¼ strokes higher. By the best players in the world.
Going like you were with Luke and then against the course, was it kind of like, man, this is a great match we’re having here, or is it more like, God, I can’t put this guy away?
No, I enjoyed it. Almost looked at it kind of like a match-play. We were just going back and forth, and both kind of, I don’t know, kind of hitting it all over the place and struggling to make pars.
We both hit a lot of really good shots and we both hit a lot of bad shots. I think on a day like today, we fed off each other. We were both I think pretty positive. Luke’s mild‑tempered, which is always good for me. Kind of helps me stay calm and just keep plugging along.
You know, I think it’s a good match up. I think we have a great pairing to be in the final group again tomorrow. We kind of — even though we are out in front with the lead, we are kind of under the radar. We are not marquee players, quite yet. But we’ll just go out there and play golf and see what happens. It’s a good field, and obviously a great golf course and you know, we’ll just see what happens.
Perfect. Do your best and take what the golf course gives you. And don’t panic. And you have to remember that the two guys who were “hitting it all over the place” and “struggling to make pars” were the leaders!
The day was so difficult that Tiger Woods shot even par and moved up 33 places from the back of the pack to T32. The day was so difficult that the guys who fell to the bottom of the leaderboard were shooting 5, 6, 7, 9 and even 11-over par.
Why? Besides the thick rough, it was the wind. It was blowing 15 to 25 mph and it was cloudy with the temperatures in the mid-60s. Being mostly cloudy made it feel colder than that.
The wind just so tough to judge, coming across most of the holes, a hair into, a hair downwind, it’s just hard to judge. I wasn’t quite comfortable with the front nine. I was a little nervous, a little off my edge, so to speak. Just wasn’t hitting the ball very well, and thankfully, I left it in places where I can get up‑and‑down and my short game was — I mean, that’s the best I’ve ever chipped, I think ever.
So it just really — that saved me, my chipping and then hit some good putts in the wind. In this kind of wind, it’s hard to make putts, and it’s hard to hit it close to the hole, especially with some of those pins. For example, 11, that pin is impossible with the wind like today.
Thompson looked like he changed from being a high-ball hitter to a low-ball hitter to compensate for that, but it wasn’t that. It was that he finally just started to hit it better.
You’re a high‑ball hitter, do you have to adjust your ball flight?
Yeah, I actually grew up playing the ball really low, so I know what it feels like to play a lot of low shots. It wasn’t working for me on the front nine. On the back nine I started to hit it more like I wanted to.
You do have to play for the wind, even if you do hit it low, because the wind is going to move it, even with the new balls that don’t move very much in the wind, this is strong enough to where it’s still going to move. So you just have to be careful into the wind, because if you get it up in the air, it’s coming back at you. And it really doesn’t matter what club you use.
It was really more just trying to find a comfort zone. I was hitting it high on the front nine, it felt like, just because I was coming out of it and wasn’t making good swings at the ball. I think the last three holes on the front nine, I started to make better swings and kind of got into a groove a little bit in terms of just hitting the ball solid.
If you hit the ball solid in this kind of wind, you’re going to hit a lot of good shots and the wind is not going to affect it as much. That was really my goal and when I start hitting it solid, that’s when I started hitting it lower, so that’s kind of what happens. And I got into a really good groove coming down I guess the last 13 holes or so.
Thompson was a proxy for basically what everyone else was saying. He was just a little more voluble and quotable.
So if you are a fan of track meets, it ain’t going to happen on Sunday. The forecast is for 10 to 20 and a 40% chance of rain showers. This is going to be more of a chess match.
But for those who understand what they’re looking at, the difficulty of playing in these kinds of conditions, it can be just as exciting an experience.
Thompson and Guthrie will be paired together again and right behind them will be the wily veterans, Lee Westwood and Geoff Ogilvy who is experiencing a bit of a rebound to his normal form.
It should be a good one.