Ryan Palmer takes early lead at Honda Classic with 65
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) Ryan Palmer has reason to believe that better days are ahead, with his golf game and at home.
Palmer made seven birdies Friday on another day of ideal scoring conditions at PGA National for a 5-under 65 that gave him a one-shot lead over Rickie Fowler midway through the second round of the Honda Classic.
Fowler had another 66 while Anirban Lahiri was another shot behind after a 68.
Starting a new year packed with uncertainty over matters far more important than golf, Palmer returned from a four-month break and missed the cut in his first four events. He signed up for Riviera only because his game needed work, and he saw enough go right to find some momentum going into Florida.
The long break was to be at home with his wife, Jennifer, who is recovering from breast cancer.
She was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer in late July while he was at the Canadian Open. She had surgery about five weeks later. Palmer’s season ended in September, and he spent the rest of the year helping her cope with chemotherapy and at home with their two children.
”I watched a few tournaments,” Palmer said. ”There were times when she said I should have gone and played. I was going to play Vegas and I was going to play Malaysia, but after that, there was no way I could play golf. Enjoyed time at home, took care of the kids. But it was a lot of hard times, for sure.”
She was diagnosed relatively early, and the timing helped in other ways.
Palmer was able to reach out to Stewart Cink, whose wife is battling breast cancer. And the week after he learned his wife had breast cancer, Palmer sought out Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship. Mickelson’s wife was diagnosed in 2009.
”And he went right to work and made phone calls for me,” Palmer said. ”I can’t think him enough for what he did. It’s been a long ride.”
Palmer has gone through his share of emotions. His father was killed in a single-car accident in west Texas in the late summer of 2015. His father’s birthday was Thursday, and it leads to somber moments.
Palmer typically plays about two dozen tournaments a year, so four months was a long time away. He said it affected his putting in particular.
”The greens, all hell broke loose – the nerves, anxiety right hand. I spent four weeks going through that,” he said.
He worked with Dave Stockton and his son on putting during the three days leading to the Genesis Open at Riviera, opened with a 68 and saw good results, even though he tied for 49th.
”Felt like it was the best putting I’ve done in a year and a half, and it’s carried over to this week,” he said.
Fowler also started 66-66 a year ago, becoming the first player to go bogey-free over the opening 36 holes at PGA National, which has been the site of the Honda Classic in 2007. But he went 71-74 on the weekend and was never a factor.
Fowler feels as though his game is in good shape. Now he’d like to finish it off. He hasn’t won anywhere since Abu Dhabi a year ago, and his last PGA Tour victory was over Labor Day weekend in 2015.
”I feel like it’s time for me to start finishing off some more events when I am in this position,” Fowler said. ”I wouldn’t look just back at this specific event, but there’s been a few where I’ve had a chance, and I feel very good out front or around the guys in the lead. I’m looking forward to this weekend.”