PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — As far as star power goes, the PGA Tour is like a fireworks show in the rain.
The Phoenix Open was more high-charged than ever this year with the Super Bowl in town and Tiger Woods back to golf. Except that Woods was on his way home after two days and a career-high 82 to miss the cut by 12 shots. A week later, Woods was gone after 11 holes and glutes that wouldn’t activate.
The strongest field of the year is the Honda Classic, especially with Rory McIlroy and his No. 1 ranking on American soil for the first time in five months.
At least McIlroy didn’t have to fly across the country to get home. He lives about 15 minutes away.
“I don’t like missing cuts,” McIlroy said Friday after having three bogeys over the final four holes for a 4-over 74. “You want to be playing on the weekend, and I’m not there. I’m not going to be playing this weekend, which is not nice.”
The cut won’t be made until Saturday because of a four-hour rain delay. None of the late starters played more than 12 holes. McIlroy knew the score. His 74 followed a 73, the first time since nearly a year ago at Doral that he had back-to-back rounds over par in the same tournament. He wasn’t going to make it.
Different from Woods, there was no reason to panic.
Woods has a new swing coach and had played only four rounds in more than five months when he showed up at Phoenix and showed off a short-game with which no one was familiar. His full swing wasn’t much better, and he can’t seem to make cuts. He was back to golf and nothing had changed. He still couldn’t break par.
McIlroy played twice this year on the European Tour already. He was runner-up in Abu Dhabi. He won in Dubai.
Boy Wonder was coming off a three-week break and had been hitting the ball on the range. What went wrong? Not much except for a few swings that led to double bogey, a few putts that wouldn’t fall and wind and rain that didn’t make PGA National much easier.
“I don’t feel like I controlled my ball flight well at all, which you need in the wind,” McIlroy said. “That wasn’t something that I did particularly well. I guess the last three weeks, I haven’t really practiced in many crosswinds. I felt like I struggled in crosswinds out there the last couple of days.”
Even though the bogeys at the end cost him — two from a bunker, a three-putt on the final hole that was irrelevant — what cost him was a shot as he tried to get something going. He was in the right rough on the par-5 18th as he made the turn, and he thought the lie was good enough to reach the green with a fairway metal. It was short and to the right and into the water, and he made bogey.
And so his road to the Masters hit a speed bump — nothing more, unless he struggles next week at Doral in a World Golf Championship.
“I guess after coming off a three-week break, and then felt a little … I wouldn’t say rusty, but just not quite on top of my game yesterday,” McIlroy said. “And then today, I felt like I was trying to get something going and couldn’t. Coming off three weeks off and playing in conditions like these, it sort of shows you where you’re game is at. Just got to regroup and put some work in and get ready for Miami next week.”
McIlroy is playing twice more before the Masters.
“I wouldn’t worry and read too much into it,” Luke Donald said after a 67 put him at 4-under 136, two shots behind Patrick Reed. “Rory has been by far the best players in the world for the last year or so.”
Take your eyes off the big names, and the golf has been entertaining. Friday at PGA National was no exception.
Reed shot another 67 and was the clubhouse leader at 6-under 134. Reed is coming up on the one-year anniversary of his win at Doral, when he proclaimed himself among the top five players in the world. He’s up to No. 16 now, though he also has five wins in the last 17 months.
He made a sloppy double bogey on the 11th hole early in his round, and then really got irritated when it began pouring rain and play was stopped — twice — for nearly four hours. Maybe it cooled him off, for he went the rest of the way without a bogey.
Brooks Koepka was playing with McIlroy and made a stunning turnaround. He opened with a 78 and followed with a 64. The most entertaining was a shot off the part path and over the sky box. He got a free drop, hit wedge from 70 yards and made a 20-footer for birdie.
Brendan Steele made birdie on all four holes he played before the second round was halted by darkness. He was at 8 under and had to return Saturday morning.
The strange day ended with a light rain — and yes, a fireworks show. Not many hung around to watch.
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