Published March 03, 2012
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy was practicing about 15 minutes away at The Bear's Club without much wind, so it would not have surprised him to see low scores on PGA National in the second round of the Honda Classic.
The course record of 64 was matched three times Friday morning.
And that was before Brian Harman completed the morning session by standing in the fairway on the par-5 18th hole with a realistic shot at 59. Trying to go at the flag instead of safely in the middle of the green for a reasonable eagle putt, he came up short in the bunker, failed to get up-and-down and had to settle for a 61.
So as much as McIlroy was trying to tell himself that par was a good score in the breezy afternoon, he had to rely on birdies to stay close to the lead and give himself a shot at winning to move up to No. 1 in the world.
On a day of moderate wind and low scores, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland birdied three of his last five holes for a 5-under 67, leaving him one shot behind Justin Rose (66) and 43-year-old journeyman Tom Gillis (64) going into the weekend.
"You can't play 36 holes around here and expect to come away without any bruises at all," Rose said.
Rose reached 10 under before back-to-back bogeys dropped him back into a share of the lead with Gillis, who is atop the leaderboard on the PGA Tour after any round for the first time in his career.
They were at 8-under 132.
"Still a lot of golf left — 36 holes," McIlroy said. "I just need to keep doing the same things, try to drive the ball in the fairway and give myself loads of opportunities, and try and take a few. Because you don't need to make tons of birdies out here. You just have to keep big numbers off your card."
Tiger Woods made five birdies and a big number.
With his 3-year-old son, Charlie, in the gallery for the first time at a tournament, Woods made five birdies in soft, still conditions, then was undone by a tee shot that was headed for water no sooner than it left his club. He made double bogey, then rallied with a pair of birdies on the last two holes for a 68.
It left him seven shots behind, still within shouting distance of the leaders and a chance to end his longest PGA Tour drought — now at 18 months — at what he calls his new hometown tournament.
Woods lives in nearby Martin County, as does his mother, who brought her grandson to the course.
"I got it going, lost it, going it going, lost it and then got it going," Woods said. "It was a little bit of a fight today — probably the worst I've hit the ball in months."
Woods was happy to at least be within range. Then again, so was everyone.
The cut came at 141 — the lowest since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007 — meaning all 77 players advancing to the weekend were within nine shots of the lead.
McIlroy, who would have to win the Honda Classic to replace Luke Donald atop the world ranking, was at 7 under along with Dicky Pride, who birdied his last hole for a 67.
Harman, Jimmy Walker (67) and Monday qualifier Vaughn Taylor (66) were another shot back.
Proof of the low scoring came from Harman, the rookie from Georgia who never imagined standing in the 18th fairway with a chance to shoot 59 with an eagle on the par 5. He gave it his best shot, leaving a hybrid into the front bunker in an attempt to have a reasonable putt. Harman wound up missing a 5-footer and had to settle for par, though his 61 still broke the course record by three shots.
"Just one of those crazy days where everything comes together," Harman said. "Got off to a really hot start and just kept the pedal down all day. It was awesome."
McIlroy ran off nine straight pars — he missed two birdie chances from 5 feet and another one from 12 feet — until he made bogey from the bunker on the 13th hole. He answered with back-to-back birdies, from tap-in range on the 14th and a 15-footer on the next hole, and then finished with a two-putt from 65 feet.
"I had a few chances early on and didn't take them," McIlroy said. "Kept making pars and making pars, and broke that run with a bogey on 13 which was frustrating. But to bounce back from that and birdie three of the last five holes was nice, and puts me in great position going into the weekend."
Gillis said his turning point came with a 25-foot par putt on the 10th, followed by three birdies over the next four holes.
It was quite a turnaround for Gillis, who has played in 26 countries during a journey that has taken him to tours in Europe, Asia and South Africa. He even thought about quitting after he failed to get back to the PGA Tour through Q-school, but he stuck with it, hopeful of days like this one.
Gillis even went home to Michigan after one of his failures at Q-school to get a real job.
"Job market wasn't very good. Didn't have a whole lot to offer them, to be quite honest with you," he said. "So I thought, 'Geez, I'd better turn around and go back out there and see if I have anything left.' It's kind of a cool story. I like it because you dig deep and you move forward, and it's a good example to young kids, just never give up and keep believing.
"Sometimes it's hard to do that in this game because it seems like the game is built to tear you down to some extent."