PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Rose keeps preaching par is a good score at PGA National. Thanks to a string of birdies Friday, he carved out another 66 to share the lead with Tom Gillis in the Honda Classic.
Three birdies over the last five holes also kept Rory McIlroy in the chase for No. 1 in the world.
“Still a lot of golf left – 36 holes,” McIlroy said after a 67 in the breezy, balmy afternoon. “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.”
Maybe not, but that was the recipe for Brian Harman, who shattered the course record by three shots and even flirted with golf’s magic number before he had to settle for par on the 543-yard closing hole for a 61.
Birdies also helped Tiger Woods, though not enough to offset a tee shot into the water on the par-3 fifth for a double bogey in his round of 68 that put him seven shots out of the lead.
Rose made five birdies in a nine-hole stretch in the middle of his round and was at 10 under until back-to-back bogeys, an example of how this course can stop momentum quickly. He wound up at 8-under 132 with Gillis, a 43-year-old journeyman who had a 64 and is atop the leaderboard for the first time after any round of a PGA Tour event.
“You can’t play 36 holes around here and expect to come away without any bruises at all,” Rose said.
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.
The cut was at 141, the lowest since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National five years ago.
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.”
For Woods, it was a matter of hitting the gas and slamming on the brakes.
Woods stuffed an approach inside 3 feet for birdie, then had to scramble for bogey. He bounced a tee shot off a spectator and turned that into birdie, only to hit his next tee shot into the water for double bogey. He closed with two birdies.
“It was nice to get that kind of finish because I was struggling today a little bit, trying to find a motion that was going to get the job done,” said Woods, whose 3-year-old son, Charlie, watched him play a tournament for the first time. “Somehow, I managed to score.”
He still didn’t score as well as so many others.
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 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.”