PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The temperature climbed, the winds calmed, and PGA National unexpectedly lost a great deal of its bite.
Welcome to the kinder, gentler Honda Classic.
Anthony Kim was one of four players to match the best Honda round shot on the Champion course with a 64, Camilo Villegas shot 66 for the second straight day, and they were tied at 8-under 132 atop the leaderboard after the second round of the Honda, where the only thing that improved more than the weather on Friday was the scoring.
“Trust me, it’s a tough golf course,” Villegas said.
Maybe so, but since the Honda moved to the Jack Nicklaus redesign in 2007, there’s never been an easier day to get around.
Vijay Singh (66) was a stroke back at 7 under, Jerry Kelly (65) was alone in fourth at 6 under, and a fivesome of players – Mike Weir, Matt Every, Graeme McDowell, Chez Reavie and first-round co-leader Nathan Green – all will enter the weekend three shots off the lead.
“I think we got the favorable wind today,” Stephen Ames said.
Everybody did. Thursday was marked by wind gusts over 30 mph; Friday merely had occasionally strong breezes and little else.
It showed in the scoring.
Entering Friday, there had been 1,445 competitive Honda rounds played at PGA National, with just two rounds of 64: Luke Donald in 2008 and Greg Chalmers in 2009. On Friday alone, there were four – with Ames, Paul Casey, Weir and Kim all getting there.
“Probably only about half a club of wind, which was nice at times,” said Ames, who is 3 under entering the weekend. “A lot different than it was yesterday.”
It didn’t start that way. A record low for the date of 39 degrees was recorded Friday morning, and a brisk northwest wind made the air feel downright frosty when play started.
Then the scoring spree began. The nine players within three shots of the lead combined to shoot 37 under – including an even-par 70 by Green and McDowell getting penalized two strokes.
“It’s very, very tough,” Casey said. “Not necessarily enjoyable, but that’s what we require out here.”
Forecasters say wind gusts topping 20 mph are expected for Saturday.
Wind, no wind, Villegas is playing the course the same way anyway.
“There’s not too many birdies out there,” Villegas insisted. “And you have some really tough holes. You’ve just got to be careful.”
He made few mistakes; the most grievous might have been hitting his tee ball into the water on the par-3 15th, and Villegas minimized the damage by rolling in a 15-footer for bogey. He strung together four straight birdies later in the round, getting to 9 under at one point.
Afterward, he held a giant energy drink bottle, possibly for good reason. He flew from Phoenix to Miami to Bogota on Monday, had a nearly nonstop 36 hours of events built around the Nationwide Tour Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open – the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event in his home country – before heading back to South Florida for the Honda.
“It’s been a long week but it’s been a good one,” Villegas said. “Having the first Nationwide Tour event in Colombia is awesome. It’s a dream come true for my country. It’s a dream come true for myself. It’s great for Latin American golf and hopefully it’s the beginning of some other countries hosting big events.”
Weir’s country just hosted a big event as well, and he’s still basking in the memory.
Weir took his family to the Vancouver Olympics, including Sunday’s gold-medal hockey game between the U.S. and his native Canada. He didn’t get to South Florida until late Tuesday night after a 10-day break from golf, shot a relatively unspectacular 71 on Thursday, and faced a 15-foot par putt on his opening hole Friday.
It rolled in, and Weir was on his way to a bogey-free round.
“Just a little chilly in the start and then it got better,” said Weir, who removed his jacket on his 12th hole. “My game was pretty good. I hit most of the fairways and you know, scrambled a little bit out there, but you’re going to do that on this golf course.”
Singh rolled in a 65-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th to get him to 7 under, his sixth birdie in an 11-hole stretch. Kim had some late-round dramatics as well, chipping in at the par-3 7th.
“It’s just a matter of time before I put four good ones together and start winning some golf tournaments again,” Kim said.
McDowell was a shot off the lead when he got to the 18th. He sent his tee shot way right, the ball coming to rest in a few inches of water. On his backswing, he caused the water to move a tiny bit, and wound up getting penalized two strokes after a lengthy post-round review.
“It’s a bit of a bittersweet end to the day,” McDowell said. “I’m glad it’s Friday. It could be Sunday and that would hurt a lot more. I’ve got all weekend to repair the damage.”
Notes: The cut was 3 over, which 74 players made. … Alexandre Rocha made the cut, despite shooting 76 after a first-round 66. … On a course with Nicklaus’ fingerprints all over it, Arnold Palmer’s grandson isn’t far off the lead. Sam Saunders shot his second straight 69, moving to 2 under.