Guthrie, Thompson face tough tests from PGA National, strong leaderboard

March 02, 2013
Brian Wacker,

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Luke Guthrie and Michael Thompson stood up to stiff breezes on a windswept Saturday to share the lead through three rounds of The Honda Classic.

Whether either one will be able to withstand the firepower behind them on the leaderboard remains to be seen.

Lee Westwood, Geoff Ogilvy, Rickie Fowler, Charles Howell III, Y.E. Yang, Peter Hanson, Keegan Bradley and Justin Rose are all within four shots of Guthrie and Thompson.

That group has a combined 21 victories on the PGA TOUR -- not to mention dozens more on other tours. Guthrie and Thompson have three -- none of which have come on the big stage.

Not that Guthrie and Thompson won’t have at least something to draw on.

Guthrie spent last season on the Tour, where he began his professional career while still taking classes at the University of Illinois.

It wasn’t long before he graduated to the PGA TOUR after four top 10s in his first five starts and wins in his sixth and seventh on the Tour.

Guthrie is only 23 years old, and he probably isn’t the 23-year-old anyone expected to see atop the leaderboard at PGA National. But not unlike Rory McIlroy, Guthrie does have some experience beyond his years given his track record.

“I was very confident I could get out here and compete right away,” Guthrie said after a 71 Saturday.

Sometimes winning is winning, no matter where it is. We need look no further than Russell Henley earlier this season in Hawaii for Exhibit A.

Thompson’s only victory came on the NGA Tour, but he also finished second in the U.S. Open last year. Not a bad memory to recall.

“It's almost like the conditions of the grass are like a U.S. Open,” said Thompson, who shot 70 on Saturday. “As y'all know, I like playing in U.S. Opens and that's kind of the way I'm treating it.”

Unfortunately for Thompson, he’s not the only one who likes difficult golf courses. The better the player, the harder they like the track. It helps eliminate pesky opponents, for one.

“I’d love it if the wind blows,” said Fowler, whose flat swing and ball flight withstand the wind well. “I like playing in the wind.”

He should get some Sunday. The forecast is for a breezy 10-20 mph (and a 40 percent chance of rain).

More importantly, Fowler liked the way he finished, erasing a late-round bogey with a birdie and eagle on his last two holes to close out a 69, one of only eight rounds under par on the day. It was the kind of move not all that dissimilar to his 12-shot swing earlier this season in San Diego, where he went 77-65 the first two rounds before finishing sixth.

“Confidence-wise, (San Diego) was huge,” he said. “I had a lot of comments, whether it was Instagram or Twitter, how bad I was. Well, 65, you're right back in it and finish T-6.

“I took a lot out of that. Moving forward, I knew I was swinging well.”

So are Westwood and Ogilvy, both of whom could have completely bombed in the third round after shaky starts.

Westwood, who moved just down the street in the offseason and has been practicing all winter at Old Palm, bogeyed three of his last five holes on the front nine Saturday.

On the back nine, however, he bounced back with two birdies, then avoided disaster on the par-5 18th. After hitting his second shot into a water hazard, Westwood took a drop and saved par to shoot 70.

“I like my chances regardless of the conditions,” Westwood said. “I'm playing nicely.

"If you look at my career, I haven't won enough over in the States. I've put myself in position a lot but just haven't finished it up. Having moved here and giving myself more opportunities to play here, I can start winning more."

To Westwood's point, he has 22 career victories on the European Tour and just two on the PGA TOUR. "I need to try and change that,” he said.

Ogilvy also carded a 70, despite sandwiching three bogeys around a lone birdie in his first four holes. The rest of the way he made three birdies and just one bogey.

“Even par for the day was never going to go backwards,” he said. “It was only going to go forwards, and I did that.”

That’s not hyperbole, either. On a day when PGA National played more than 2 1/2 strokes over par, shooting even meant moving up.

It might not be all that different on Sunday.

“The biggest thing is being within a few shots going into the back nine,” Fowler said. “That's where the tournament really starts.”