Camilo Villegas went from a career-best 64 on PGA National on the first day of the 2013 Honda Classic to a 7-over 77 in Friday’s second round – a 13-stroke swing – falling from the top of the leaderboard to a trunk-slamming two-stroke MC; but that head-shaker wasn’t the story of the day.
Golf-related blogs and Twitter accounts lit up Friday morning as the news spread that Rory McIlroy – world #1 and the defending champion in the event – had walked off of the course in the middle of playing the 18th hole (his ninth, he started on #10) without even putting out.
McIlroy had carded an even-par 70 in Thursday’s opening round; not great, but not shameful – world #2 Tiger Woods could do no better – but stumbled to 7-over in his first eight holes on Friday morning. After dumping his tee shot at 18 into the water, the Curly-Topped One had had enough – he shook hands with playing partners Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and exited stage right.
Responding to questions from three reporters who followed him to the parking lot, McIlroy said that he was “…just not in a great place mentally.” A few hours later, after he had BMW’ed his way home to his new $9.5 million digs, minutes away from the course in Palm Beach Gardens, his press machine released a statement to the effect that pain from impacted wisdom teeth had made it difficult for him to concentrate, leading to his sudden WD.
McIlroy’s sudden departure fueled speculation about his struggles since changing from the Titleist equipment – clubs and ball – which he has played his full professional career, to Nike equipment, at the begining of the year – for a reported $20 million per year for ten years. He has played only four full competitive rounds so far this year, missing the cut in his season debut at the Abu Dhabi Classic, then losing in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship last week in Arizona.
First-round leader Villegas, in the meantime, played a second round that in no way resembled the blazing 64 he put together on the first day of the tournament. The 31-year-old native of Colombia came out of the box with a bogey on the par-four 1st hole, then carded another on number 6. Mirroring his first-round play, his back nine amplified the theme of the front side – where in Thursday’s round he picked up the pace from one birdie to three birds and an eagle, Friday’s second round went from two bogeys on the front to three bogeys and a double on the back side.
The only two Northern California golfers in the tournament this week both failed to make the cut. Stockton native Ricky Barnes shot 71-72 to miss the cut by three strokes. San Bruno’s James Hahn, the 31-year-old Tour rookie who came to the Honda Classic with a six-in-a-row made-cut streak going, was looking doubtful early in the second round when he carded four straight bogeys.
Hahn appeared to be turning things around in the right direction with a pair of birdies on 14 & 15, his 5th and 6th holes. The 15th hole is the opening stanza of the infamous “Bear Trap” – holes 15, 16 and 17 – and Hahn came through the remainder of the trio unscathed, then put together a string of three straight birdies to open his second nine. Sitting at 1-under at that point, one stroke clear of the cut line, his round started to fall apart at the 6th hole, where he went from fairway bunker right to water left, leading to a four-putt double-bogey. Needing another birdie in the last three holes to get back to even and make the cut, Hahn bogeyed eight and nine, missing the cut by three strokes and ending his streak.