Fowler lurking, as Palmer and Bryan lead Honda Classic
Ryan Palmer was patient and finished strong. Wesley Bryan got off to a fast start and saved his best for last.
The two men ended up tied for the lead at 9-under-par 131 halfway through the Honda Classic.
Palmer didn’t let a couple of bogeys on his front nine get him down, and he was rewarded with four birdies coming in for a 5-under 65 on the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa.
“It was nice to hit some great shots coming in,” said Palmer, of Colleyville, Texas. “I’m hitting the ball well, and now that I’m comfortable with my putter and feeling good about it, it makes for a more enjoyable round.”
Bryan, of Columbia, S.C., was the first-round co-leader with a 64. Friday afternoon he birdied his first three holes and was at 8 under when he sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole after laying up to 94 yards.
“With the wind direction, those first few holes were pretty favorable,” Bryan said. “Then you’ve got to kind of hang on.
“On 18 I was able to knock it close with a wedge. I took the high-percentage route.”
Bryan said he was aware that Palmer was already at 9 under as he played the 18th.
“I saw a leaderboard, but that really doesn’t weigh into any decisions being made until the back nine on Sunday,” Bryan said.
Palmer and Bryan, who tee off at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, were one shot in front of crowd favorite Rickie Fowler of Jupiter, who shot his second consecutive 66 Friday.
“I like where the game’s at, where it’s heading,” Fowler said. “To play well but not get the most out of it the first two days, with some putts sliding by … there’s still some better golf out there for the weekend.”
Anirban Lahiri of Palm Beach Gardens was fourth at 7 under on rounds of 65-68. C.T. Pan and Graham DeLaet, who both shot 66-68, were tied for fifth at 6 under. Four players were tied for seventh at 5 under.
Seventy players made the cut at 140. That included first-round co-leader Cody Gribble, who followed Thursday’s seven-birdie, one-bogey effort with a 76 that featured seven bogeys and one birdie. The first twosome Saturday tees off at 8:30 a.m.
Among those missing the cut were Daniel Berger of Jupiter (72-71), Masters champ Danny Willett (69-72) and Brooks Koepka of Jupiter (71-78).
Palmer has had a difficult time this season. He didn’t play at all in the fall so he could be with his wife, Jennifer, while she underwent chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer.
The Honda is only his sixth tournament of 2017. He missed the cut in the first four.
“I love this golf course. I love coming here,” said Palmer, who was in a four-way playoff here in 2014 that was won by Russell Henley on the first extra hole. “We get back into the heat and the greens are pure. But you’ve got to drive the ball and you’ve got to hit your irons well.
“It’s been my strength the last few years, so when you come here, you don’t have to shoot 7, 8, 9 under par each day. If you break par on this golf course, you’re going to be in contention on the weekend.”
Starting on the 10th hole, Fowler went out in 3 under and added birdies at the third and fourth holes to get to 9 under. He bogeyed the par-3 seventh when he missed the green.
“I actually thought I hit a good shot on seven,” said Fowler of his tee shot on the 233-yard hole. “I looked up and it was a little further right than I was expecting. I ended up making bogey without really making a bad swing.”
Fowler said that as the course, which was soaked by rain on Wednesday, dries out, going low will be much more difficult. The soft greens were holding shots from the rough the first two days, but that likely won’t happen on the weekend.
He’ll be happy if he can remain consistent. Fowler shot 66-66 last year for a one-shot lead, but shot 74-71 the last two days to finish tied for sixth.
“I feel it’s time for me to start finishing off some more events when I am in this position,” Fowler said. “I wouldn’t look back just at this specific event, but there’s been a few where I’ve had a chance, and I feel very good out front or around the guys in the lead.
“I’m looking forward to this weekend. Yeah, it’s going to be a fun weekend.”