PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Delighted to be 5 under par at the midway point of the windy Honda Classic, Rory Sabbatini predicted the score would be enough to win the tournament.
A few hours later, his lead was gone.
The gusts of more than 20 mph abated some, and Kyle Stanley took advantage with his late tee time Friday, shooting a 4-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over Sabbatini.
Stanley, seeking his first PGA Tour title, was at 6-under 134. Sabbatini shot a 64, matching the tournament’s best round since it moved to PGA National in 2007.
Charl Schwartzel was third at 3 under after a 69, and Ricky Barnes (68), Jerry Kelly (67), Stuart Appleby (70) and Tommy Gainey (67) were 2 under.
Stanley had six birdies, including three in a row, to offset two bogeys. He was 1 under on holes 15 through 17, the daunting stretch known as the Bear Trap.
“The wind probably wasn’t as strong as it was Thursday,” Stanley said. “Late in my round it wasn’t really a factor.”
The 23-year-old Stanley played at Clemson, turned pro in 2009 and had a career-best 13th-place finish last week in the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
“I feel like I’ve been playing well all year but haven’t quite put four good rounds together,” he said. “I’m getting better, and that’s the main thing.”
Among those five shots behind at 1 under were Lee Westwood, who fell to No. 2 in the rankings this week behind Martin Kaymer, and first-round leader Spencer Levin. Westwood shot a 69, and Levin a 72.
Matt Kuchar’s tour-best streak of 153 consecutive holes without a three-putt ended, but he shot a 70 and was also 1 under. He won the tournament in 2002.
The cut was at 6 over, highest on the tour this year. But the scores improved in the second round to an average of 72.3, compared with 73.9 in the opening round.
“It was much tougher Thursday morning than it was this afternoon,” Kelly said. “On Thursday you couldn’t hear anything; it was like a freight train coming through. Today you could hear people talking and things like that.”
The wind was still stout Friday morning, however, and had many players scrambling. Defending champion Camilo Villegas missed the cut, shooting a 78 that put him 17 over par. Mike Weir had four double bogeys and a triple bogey en route to a career-worst 85, leaving him 22 over.
For much of the day, there was again a sense the course was winning.
“Who’s on the leaderboard?” Kelly said. “This course could care less.”
Soaring scores made Sabbatini’s round especially impressive. The South African switched putters before the tournament, and the change paid off promptly.
He needed only 21 putts in the second round, one above the tour’s tournament low this year.
“Probably I’m the most confident I’ve been with the putter in a really long time,” he said.
While Sabbatini has five tour titles, Stanley never made an appearance in an interview room before Friday. From Gig Harbor, Wash., his first tournament title came in tennis, not golf, when he was in grade school.
By high school his focus had switched to golf. He became an All-American at Clemson, but his claim to fame may be that he was the college roommate of Sam Saunders, who is Arnold Palmer’s grandson.
Not that Stanley phones Palmer for advice.
“I’ve played in his tournament a couple of times, I think in ’07 and maybe ’08. So I’ve met him a few times,” Stanley said. “I remember the first time I saw him, I was on the putting green and I kind of looked up and he was right there, so that kind of caught me off guard a little bit. Yeah, he’s a nice guy.”