McIlroy leaves, Guthrie leads and Woods struggles

Rory McIlroy left before his round was even over. Tiger Woods

had to rally just to stick around.

And with all that drama Friday in the Honda Classic, hardly

anyone noticed that Luke Guthrie showed off his potential in a big

way with a 7-under 63 to take a one-shot lead going into the

weekend at PGA National.

Guthrie, pegged by many of his peers as a rookie worth watching

going into the year, played bogey-free on another cool, cloudy

day.

Of his seven birdies, perhaps the most impressive for the Big

Ten champion from Illinois came on the sixth hole when he had mud

on the side of his ball and was able to work the shot in from the

right to about 10 feet.

After finishing his round, he walked into an interview room when

someone mentioned that McIlroy walked off the course after being

7-over par through eight holes.

”I had no clue,” Guthrie said. ”I was just kind of going

about my business out there.”

He was at 9-under 131 and had a one-shot lead over Michael

Thompson.

McIlroy, who missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and lost in the first

round of the Match Play Championship in his previous two starts,

made a double bogey on his second hole and rinsed two balls in the

water on the 16th hole on his way to a triple bogey.

He hit his approach to the 18th in the water and never finished

the hole.

He shook hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson and was on his

way, but not before conflicting messages.

McIlroy told three reporters who followed him to his car that it

was nothing physical but that he was ”not in a good place

mentally.”

An hour later, he released a statement through his management

company that he couldn’t concentrate because of a sore wisdom

tooth.

Woods looked as if he might join him. After mixing birdies with

bogeys, Woods went bunker-to-bunker, over the green, short of the

green and wound up with a double bogey on the 13th hole that put

him one shot under the cut line with five holes to play.

Instead of the second straight week when No. 1 and No. 2 were

gone early, Woods answered with a shot into 5 feet for birdie, a

6-foot par putt on the 16th hole, a par save from the back bunker

on the 17th that was easier than it looked, and a par save from

near the grandstand by the 18th green that was harder than it

looked.

He wound up with another 70 to make the cut on the number, nine

shots out of the lead.

”I didn’t quite have my game like I did yesterday,” Woods

said. ”I hit it much better yesterday, but I putted better today,

so it all evened out.”

Also having a tough time was tennis star Serena Williams,

following in Woods’ large gallery. She took a picture of the

14-time major champion after his tee shot on the 17th and was

scolded by security. The PGA Tour does not allow photos on

competition days.

”Apparently u can’t take pics. This security … yelled at

me,” she tweeted.

A few minutes later, she posted the photo. And she finished with

one last tweet: ”In my Defense peeps always take pics of tennis

players.”

There was no reason to get a snapshot of Camilo Villegas, who

joined a dubious list of PGA Tour players who went from

first-to-worst. Villegas, playing primarily on sponsor exemptions

this year because he lost his full status, opened with a 64 for his

best start in more than a year.

The Colombian was 13 shots worse on Friday in a round of 77 that

caused him to miss the cut. The last player to do that was Jim

Renner at the Travelers Championship in 2011.

Thompson had a 65 and will play in the final group with Guthrie,

the first time all year the PGA Tour will have twosomes on the

weekend.

Boo Weekley held it together for another day and shot 67 to

finish two shots behind at 133, along with Graham DeLaet of

Canada.

Behind them was an impressive collection of players.

Geoff Ogilvy finally began holing some putts and shot 66 to go

into the weekend three shots behind, along with Lee Westwood (68),

Charles Howell III (67), Sean O’Hair (68) and Justin Rose (66).

Ogilvy had not made a cut in his past four tournaments, dating to

his season opener in the California desert.

”The worst I’ve hit the ball was today,” he said. ”You chip

in, hole a couple of long putts … it’s amazing how different it

is when you hole good putts.”

This is a big weekend for the likes of Ogilvy and Howell,

neither of whom is in the Masters. They have to win or move into

the top 50 by the end of the month.

For players such as Guthrie, Thompson, DeLaet and Weekley, they

are too far down in the ranking that only a win would get them down

Magnolia Lane.

The road to the Masters suddenly looks like an uphill climb for

McIlroy.

Nike introduced him with blaring music and a laser show in Abu

Dhabi, but it’s been all downhill from there.

In three tournaments, he has missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, lost

in the first round of the Match Play Championship and withdrew

after 26 holes at PGA National.

”His demeanor looks a little different,” said Graeme McDowell,

one of his best friends. ”I felt like he was a little off with his

golf swing on the range. There were a few moans and groans coming

from the bay next to me. It’s normally a display. It’s normally a

clinic. It’s superlatives coming from the coach and the caddie.

That’s the sign of a guy who’s lacking a little technique in his

swing and a little belief in his game.”

In the parking lot, McIlroy was asked three times if anything

was wrong physically and he said no. Golfweek magazine reported he

was near tears.

”There’s not really much I can say, guys,” McIlroy said. ”I’m

not in a good place mentally, you know?”

Then came the statement that it was his wisdom tooth, an apology

to the Honda Classic for withdrawing, and hope that his game is

about to turn the corner.

McIlroy, whose manners have been as impeccable as his swing

since turning pro, faced criticism for his behavior for the first

time in his career.

And while he couldn’t wait to get off the course, this much

probably didn’t cross his mind. By quitting in the middle of a

round, he is ineligible for the Vardon Trophy he won last year for

having the lowest scoring average of the PGA Tour.