Rickie Fowler leads Honda Classic after 36 holes with two straight 66s
By Doug Ferguson
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – Rickie Fowler isn't setting any course records at the Honda Classic. He'll gladly settle for more great golf, and the 36-hole lead.
Fowler got back to work last week in Florida after his big disappointment in the Phoenix Open and shot the course record at The Medalist (66). The next day, he went an hour north to The Floridian and shot 60 to break the course record held by Justin Thomas.
He set a more obscure record Friday with his 4-under 66 to build a one-shot lead over Jimmy Walker. Fowler became the first player to go bogey-free over the opening 36 holes in the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.
"That's a big accomplishment around this golf course – not just one day, but back-to-back," Fowler said. "So pleased with how I've managed my game."
In his first start since Fowler lost a two-shot lead with two holes in Phoenix, he put himself right back in position to win.
Fowler was at 8-under 132, one shot ahead of Jimmy Walker, who finished his round of 66 with a 25-foot birdie on the 17th and a 40-foot eagle putt on No. 18. Sergio Garcia, playing with Fowler, stayed with him until the final four holes. Garcia had a 69 and was two shots behind.
Adam Scott also played bogey-free in wind that was slightly calmer and in warmer weather. He holed a 10-foot eagle putt on the third hole and two-putted for birdie on his final hole for a 65 that left him three shots behind.
Scott has yet to shoot over par in 10 rounds this year, with nine of those rounds in the 60s.
"It's starting to get really solid, and I've got to just keep doing that and let the confidence build," Scott said.
Rory McIlroy left without speaking and won't be coming back this week. He missed the cut for the second straight year at the Honda Classic.
McIlroy tried to play off a muddy patch in the hazard left of the par-3 fifth green, hit off the rocks into the water, took a penalty drop and made triple bogey. A birdie on the final hole gave him a 72, though he missed the cut by one shot.
The cut was at 3-over 143, and Phil Mickelson made it on the number. Mickelson, coming off a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach after losing a two-shot lead going into the final round, failed to make a birdie in his round of 74.
"I hit 15 greens today and I didn't make a single birdie. That's a frustrating deal," Mickelson said. "I hit a lot of good shots. I'm really not complaining. I just had a hard time getting it in the hole. I don't know what to say. The score certainly wasn't very good, but felt like I played all right."
Fowler had a similar round to Thursday – no bogeys, a 66, and tough par save on his 10th hole to keep his round going. He chipped in for par on No. 10 in the opening round. On Friday on his 10th hole (No. 1), he was in the trees well right of the fairway and managed to get out near the front of the green for a simple up-and-down.
His longest par putt was 12 feet on No. 4 after driving into a bunker, and he ended the day with a 25-foot birdie putt.
"Got a nice break on 1 to kind of continue that," Fowler said. "But yeah, I kept myself in it with some up-and-downs, made some good putts, and then continued to move forward. Made a couple birdies coming in, so it was a little bit of a bonus there at the last."
Only 19 players remained under par going into the weekend.
Fowler spent a week in California with family and friends after his Phoenix playoff loss to Hideki Matsuyama, then got back to work at home in Florida. He already had the course record at Medalist (which opened after changes in November), then really lit it up at The Floridian.
"Pretty good accomplishment," he said of his 60.
The first two days of the Honda Classic haven't been too shabby, either. Even though he lost the late lead in Phoenix and missed the cut at Torrey Pines, Fowler has been quietly moving into the conversation of the elite players this year. He finished fifth at Kapalua to start 2016, won against a strong field in Abu Dhabi that included Jordan Spieth and McIlroy, and now is the player to catch at PGA National.
Garcia held his own for a big part of the round until he three-putted for bogey on his 10th hole (No. 1) and Fowler built his lead by making birdies.
"Tomorrow is going to be an important day," Garcia said. "Rickie is playing really, really well, so I'm going to have to play extremely well to keep up with him. We'll see. Hopefully we have a good chance on Sunday. See what we can do."
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