Steele leads by one shot at Honda Classic

By TIM REYNOLDS

The Associated Press

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Brendan Steele made a couple of big mistakes down the stretch, and still was more than good enough to grab the outright lead at the midpoint of The Honda Classic.

Steele shot a 3-under 67 on Friday, getting to 5 under for the week and putting himself a shot clear of J.T. Poston (69), Lee Westwood (69) and Luke Donald (66) after the second round at PGA National.

This is Steele’s ninth time playing the Honda and the first time he’s ended any round at PGA National with the lead. He missed the cut last year by 10 shots, but most of what he’s doing so far this year has worked — that is, until he made bogey on two of his last three holes Friday.

“My first few years here I couldn’t quite figure it out,” Steele said. “I thought maybe it wasn’t a good course for me. … I don’t feel like it’s a course you can just jump out your first time and have it nailed. You have to see it in all the different winds and conditions that you have.”

The cut was 3 over, and most of the biggest names in the field aren’t sticking around for the weekend. Among them: Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and defending champion Keith Mitchell. Koepka shot a 4-over 74 for the second consecutive day and missed the cut by five shots. Fowler (68) missed an eagle putt at the par-5 18th that would have gotten him to the weekend and fell a shot shy, Rose (74) was 6 over and missed by three shots, while Mitchell (72) missed by five shots.

“You can rack up some big numbers pretty quick,” Koepka said.

Steele had a chance to take an even bigger lead into the weekend.

The famed Bear Trap, PGA National’s stretch of holes 15-17, has never been overly kind to Steele — who was 26 over on those three holes in 31 rounds on that triumvirate before Friday. But his tee ball on the par-3 15th went around the back of the hole before lipping out and stopping inches shy of an ace, and he followed that up with another birdie on the par-3 17th.

Thing was, the 16th and 18th got him. A bogey on the par-4 16th was the first miscue, and then his approach sailed over the green at the finishing hole to lead to another dropped shot. Still, the three-time winner on tour — the last of those coming when he went back-to-back at the Safeway Open in 2018 — left more than satisfied.

“I think a course like this always suits me a little bit better,” Steele said. “I feel like I can make birdies on this course maybe more than other guys can, and I don’t necessarily feel that way a lot of weeks. … That gives me some confidence, and I definitely feel like harder is usually better for me.”

Steele missed a chance for a victory in January in Hawaii, falling to Cameron Smith in a playoff after taking a three-stroke lead into the final round.

U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland put himself squarely in the mix with a 67 and thinks there’s a simple reason why tough courses like PGA National appeal to him.

“I think it’s definitely mental,” Woodland said. “I probably focus a little bit more. You’ve got to hit shots out here. You’ve got to work the golf ball both ways. You’ve got to ride the wind. I love playing in the wind. But this golf course is as demanding as we see, so you’ve got to be ready from the get-go.”

Woodland was tied for fifth at 3 under with Sepp Straka (67), Cameron Davis (67) and Nick Watney (66).

Donald got into the mix as well, looking for his first win in the U.S. since 2012 and the first anywhere since 2013.

Donald had the best round of the day at 66, tied with a pair of South Korean players — Byeong Hun An and Sungjae Im.

Cologuard Classic

TUCSON, Ariz. — Brett Quigley birdied six of the last seven holes Friday for a 9-under 64 and the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions’ Cologuard Classic.

The winner a month ago in Morocco in his second Champions start, the 50-year-old Quigley birdied Nos. 12-15 and 17-18 on Tucson National’s Catalina Course.

“I think I was 3 under and I saw someone 6. I was like, `All right, I’ve got to get going here. I’ve just got to make some birdies.’ Hit some good shots and made some good putts and all of a sudden it was a bunch of birdies.”

Robert Karlsson was second, making five back-nine birdies in a 65, The 50-year-old Swede is making his second career start on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 23rd two weeks ago in the Chubb Classic in his senior debut.

Steve Stricker, John Day, Glen Day and Rod Pampling shot 67. Hall of Famers Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer were another stroke back along with Ken Tanigawa. Couples eagled the par-5 second and closed with two birdies.

Quigley followed the victory in Morocco with a ninth-place tie in Florida in the Chubb Classic.

“I’m just playing golf,” Quigley said. “I’m just trying to keep it simple.”

The nephew of 11-time PGA Tour Champions winner Dana Quigley, he had five runner-up finishes in 408 starts on the PGA Tour, earning more than $11 million.

“It’s such a great atmosphere out here,” Quigley said. “The camaraderie’s just different than the tour. Everybody still calls me “Champ” out here, walking by. It’s just a nice feeling. It’s not as dog eat dog as it is out there on the big tour. And I’ve had a bunch of time off, so I’m ready to play golf and I’m happy playing golf.”

Stricker won the 2018 event for the first of his five senior victories. His daughter, Bobbi Maria, made the traveling squad for Wisconsin’s golf team and played in the Phoenix area this week.

Daly had six birdies in a seven-hole stretch on his second nine. After playing the back nine in even par with a birdie and bogey, Daly birdied Nos. 2-5 and 7-8. He won his lone senior title in 2017.

“The greens are really good and you’ve got to hit some good shots into them because they’re pretty firm,” Daly said. “It’s hard to get a ball real close. That’s the way we always like it here. I just made so many 20- and 30-footers today. I didn’t hit it bad, I just didn’t hit it close. I just made some putts. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to keep doing that, so hopefully I can maybe hit a few more greens and get a little closer.”

He scrambled for the bogey on the par-5 17th.

“Hit it out-of-bounds,” Daly said. “Then my third one after the tee, I killed it, caught the tree, went right behind it, chipped out, got up-and-down for bogey, so that kind of saved the round.

Defending champion Mark O’Meara birdied three of the last four in a 69.

Chubb Classic winner Scott Parel opened with a 70.

Ernie Els had a 73 in his second senior start. He lost a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez in January in his debut in the season-opening event in Hawaii.

Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz shot 74. Playing alongside Karlsson and Thongchai Jaidee in the last group of the day off the first tee, Smoltz had five birdies, but made a triple bogey on the par-4 third and had three bogeys.

By Paul Wager

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