The preparation for competing in a PGA Tour event usually means grinding away on the driving range, hitting shot after shot to create muscle memory. After that, it’s time to visit the putting green and roll hundreds upon hundreds of putts.
Sounds boring, you say. You would be correct.
Using a different methodology this week was Rickie Fowler, and it seemed to work just fine as he grabbed a one-stroke lead Friday at the midpoint of the Honda Classic, which is being played on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa.
The best part for Fowler: The preparation was far less laborious than whacking golf balls on the range.
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This past Tuesday, Fowler worked on his game by playing a friendly round of golf with basketball legend Michael Jordan. Actually, they played two rounds — seems as though the golf-obsessed Jordan routinely enjoys playing 36 holes a day.
That tune-up with Jordan seemingly paid off for Fowler, who has shot 4-under-par 66 in his first two rounds for an 8-under 132 total and a one-shot lead over Jimmy Walker (67-66).
“It’s always fun,” Fowler said of playing golf against Jordan. “You get to see how he can pull through in pressure-packed situations … to see how clutch he is. It just shows you how good a competitor he is. I’ve definitely learned a lot on how he handles himself in those situations.”
Fowler, who gives Jordan somewhere in the range of 10 strokes per round, revealed of their recent match, “Of course, there was something on the line.” That is Fowler’s not-very-well disguised way of saying they were betting.
How much were they betting?
“We had fun,” Fowler answered, revealing nothing.
In his career, the trendy Fowler has been known for his colorful attire on the course, including Oklahoma State orange in final rounds in honor of his alma mater.
Fowler, 27, has won three PGA Tour victories in his career and is off to a good start this season with victory in a European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and a second and two top-10 finishes in five PGA Tour tournaments. He is ranked No. 5 in the current world rankings.
Steadiness has been the biggest weapon in his bag this week as he has not made a bogey through two rounds, and that is particularly impressive because the winds have been howling — making most of the other golfers howl about the wind. Fowler is the only player in the history of the event at PGA National to play the first two rounds without a bogey.
“I’m definitely pleased by the way I played the first two days,” Fowler said.
While Fowler has Oklahoma connections by attending Oklahoma State, so does his closest competitor — Walker was born in Oklahoma City.
Walker, 37, grabbed the second spot on the leaderboard by finishing with a birdie on 17 followed by eagle on the final hole. Before those final two holes, Walker was not distinguishing himself from many of the other golfers on the course, standing at 1-under for the day.
That finish was why Walker said his round added up to a “great day.”
With two holes to play, Walker knew he had ground to make up on Fowler when he heard cheers coming from the 18th green.
“That told me I needed to make birdie on the last hole to keep close to him, and to get one more on him was great,” Walker said. “I think it’s important to be close to the lead in a tournament like this because it’s such a hard golf course.”
Alone in third place, two strokes behind leader Fowler, was another big name, first-day co-leader Sergio Garcia, who shot a 1-under 69 for a two-day total of 134.
“I’m excited to feel like I’m playing a little bit better — to be up there is a good thing,” Garcia said. “We’ll take all those good things and try to use them to our advantage.
Of his round, Garcia added, “I felt like it was solid. It puts me in a good situation. We’ll see what we can do on the weekend.”
▪ Miami’s Erik Compton, overcoming two double-bogeys, made the cut by shooting a 4-over 74. The most notable player missing the cut was world No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who finished the tournament at 72-72 — 144. Phil Mickelson finished right on the cutline of 3-over to advance to the weekend.
1. Rickie Fowler
2. Jimmy Walker
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Adam Scott
5. Hudson Swafford