PALM BEACH GARDENS -- The fans were all following Rory McIlroy on Friday at the Honda Classic.
And, on the leaderboard, so were all the other golfers.
McIlroy remained on top of Honda’s mid-tournament leaderboard by shooting a 4-under-par 66 in the second round at PGA National Resort & Spa. Combined with his 63 in the first round, McIlroy had an 11-under 129 total and a one-stroke advantage over Brendon de Jonge.
Saturday is generally referred to as moving day on the PGA Tour, but McIlroy turned Friday into staying day — as in staying in first place.
“I’m confident, I’m playing well,” McIlroy said after Friday’s round.
Although McIlroy has been playing well, two of the tournament’s biggest names — Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods — have yet to play well or make a move.
In fact, Mickelson won’t have the opportunity to make a move because he missed the even-par cut at 1-over 141 after rounds of 70 and 71.
“When I hit a reasonable shot,” Mickelson said, “I missed the putt. I just had a hard time making birdies.”
Woods barely made it into the final two days, ending up right on the cut line at 140 after rounds of 71 and 69.
“It was a grind, there’s no doubt about it,” Woods said. “I didn’t hit it very good. Just one of those days when I fought out a number, which was good.”
Does Woods, 11 shots back of McIlroy with 36 holes to play, dismiss his chances of winning?
“Anything can happen this weekend,” he said.
While Woods and Mickelson have struggled, McIlroy has shown admirable mental patience, particularly in Friday’s round.
McIlroy, 24, who started on the back nine, got off to a slow start, bogeying Nos. 11 and 12.
But he immediately displayed recent new-found confidence, which he re-gained after losing much of it during a disappointing 2013 season.
“I didn’t panic,” McIlroy said of his two early bogeys. “I knew I would be able to get those shots back. I didn’t try to do anything different. Just tried to keep playing the way I was.
“When you hit a few good shots, your confidence can go up quite quickly, but then you hit one bad one, and it can go down again, and that’s where I was most of last year. Now, even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I’m doing.”
Over the years, McIlroy has dealt with emotional ups and downs at PGA National and in the Honda.
Two years ago, he won the Honda title and moved up to No. 1 in the world. Then, last season, he walked off the course unceremoniously in the second round when he went 7-over after eight holes.
Now, he seems to be on friendly terms with the Champion Course at PGA National.
“I can see myself shooting scores here,” he said. “I can see 63, 64, 65 out there.”
Those sort of numbers, if they occur, add up to trouble for the rest of the field.
McIlroy is also on friendly terms with his putter.
He has taken only 49 putts over the first two rounds.
“That’s the lowest putting total after 36 I’ve probably had in my career,” McIlroy said.
De Jonge, 33, from Zimbabwe, has never won on the regular PGA Tour and has no top-10 finishes in eight attempts this season.
He shot 66-64 for a 10-under total for the first two days. He would be in a tie for the lead with McIlroy except for a bogey on No. 9, his final hole, when he left an approach woefully short.
Can he dismiss that shot from his mind overnight?
“I certainly hope so,” De Jonge said with a smile.
When McIlroy and De Jonge tee up Saturday as one-two in the tournament, it will be a matchup of the well-known McIlroy vs. the not-so-well-known De Jonge.
That’s fine with De Jonge. He seems to be taking everything in stride.
“I’ve played quite a bit with Rory,” De Jonge said. “I know obviously what a great player he is.
“But I feel very comfortable. I’m looking forward to Saturday.”