English on top in Florida

Dave Tindall
Rotoworld

Recap of the day

Morning wave: In cool, breezy conditions, England's Tom Lewis enjoyed the familiarity (it's a common deal in the UK) and set the clubhouse target of 66, handing in a clean card on his first ever lap of PGA National. That was a shot clear of Zach Johnson and Cameron Tringale. But it was a forgettable morning for last week's Puerto Rico Open winner, Viktor Hovland, who littered his card with eight bogeys and a double in a 7-over 77. 

Afternoon wave: With sunshine, still challenging winds and fast, drying, pool-table greens, this looked like a typical Florida test. Like Lewis, Harris English is playing on a sponsor exemption and, like Lewis, he returned a 66 to tie the lead. Plenty fell victim to the Bear Trap (15, 16 and 17) but there were some impressive scores, including 67s from J.T. Poston, Brian Stuard (23 putts) and Lee Westwood, a winner in Abu Dhabi earlier in the season. Westwood commented later: "There's a lot less rough this year. It's given you a chance the way it's set up."


Leaderboard: -4 Tom Lewis, Harris English, -3 Zach Johnson, Cameron Tringale, J.T. Poston, Brian Stuard, Lee Westwood

Notables: -1 Daniel Berger, Shane Lowry, Evs Tommy Fleetwood, Gary Woodland, +2 Justin Rose, +3 Billy Horschel, +4 Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, +5 Keith Mitchell (DC), +6 Rickie Fowler, +7 Viktor Hovland

 

Revised outright betting

10/1 English, 11/1 Fleetwood, 16/1 Lewis, 18/1 Poston, Westwood, Lowry, 20/1 Woodland, Clark, 22/1 Berger, 25/1 Johnson, 28/1 Tringale.

 

Friday weather forecast

It looks to be similar to round one with a chilly and windy start. Those winds, which are again from the North West, lighten a little in the afternoon as temperatures pick up to about 68 degrees around 4pm.

 

Leaders at 18 holes

Tom Lewis (66) - An eagle from inside ten feet at 3 and two birdies were in the positive column while the negative was empty thanks to pars at his other 14 holes. Impressive stuff from the Englishman, who pelted 15 greens and ranked 1st in SG: Tee To Green.

Harris English (66) - English bogeyed two holes but outpaced them with an eagle and four birdies, including a walk-off 10-footer on the par-5 18th after laying up. Good from tee to green but the putter was the star of the show. English went to high school and college with last year's winner, Keith Mitchell, so perhaps that's a good omen.

 

Fate of the favorites

Tommy Fleetwood leaked a little oil late with bogeys at two of his final three holes (7 and 9). He hit 10 (of 14) fairways but just 11 greens. It was a day to forget for 2017 Honda champ, Rickie Fowler, who crashed to a 6-over 76 with seven bogeys against a single birdie. Brooks Koepka was over par on just two of his first 15 holes but they were a triple and a double. Further shots went on 16 and 18 in a 4-over 74.

 

Quotes

Tom Lewis (66): "Bogey-free for me is big. To be able to go out there on a course like that where the wind is blowing, as cold as it was this morning, as well, to not drop a shot was great. Obviously the eagle helped, loads of steady pars, but I was never really stressed out there. I hit a lot of good drives and a lot of good shots, and it was a nice start."

Harris English (66): "I didn't hit it my best, but I knew it was going to be one of those rounds you're going to have to grind it out. It's windy out there, you're going to have a lot of cross-winds, and it played really tough. My short game was on point, and I made some really good putts."

Zach Johnson (67): "I don't mind the grind. I appreciate how my golf game has evolved and probably lends itself to difficult, trying conditions."

Cameron Tringale (67): "My wife and I live down the street, so I play on Bermuda when we're in town here, and yeah, they're great surfaces and they're primed for long putts."

Lee Westwood (67): "These greens are very similar to Abu Dhabi (Won) and I feel comfortable on them. I don't think anybody ever feels comfortable on Poa greens like we had last week in Mexico (T22). I didn't feel comfortable in Saudi Arabia on the Paspalum greens (MC) but now I'm back on Bermuda, it feels really good. I can see lines and I can read the grain well and I always seem to putt well and play well around this course (6-for-6 with three top tens)."

Wyndham Clark (68): "I really played good all day, and I just had two bad swings that cost me about three shots, but other than that, I hit it good and stayed patient and made some birdies on my back side."

Tommy Fleetwood (70): "Even par is fine. 2-under with three to play, it's always going to be a little bit disappointing when you let a couple of shots go, but it's so easy to do out here. Level par starting off the day, knowing I can go work on a few things, have a nice bit of lunch and watch everybody else struggle is nice. It's not too bad."

 

Road to victory at PGA National

2019 Keith Mitchell – R1: 20th, R2: 1st, R3: 2nd
2018 Justin Thomas – R1: 3rd, R2: 7th, R3: 2nd
2017 Rickie Fowler – R1: 5th, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st
2016 Adam Scott – R1: 23rd, R2: 4th, R3: 1st
2015 Padraig Harrington – R1: 3rd, R2: 1st, R3: 2nd

Notes: Seven of the last 15 winners were in the top five after day one although another seven were outside the top 15. You certainly don't want to be too far back though and each of the last 12 winners were no further than five shots off the pace after 18 holes.

 

Fate of the 18-hole leaders at PGA National – where did they finish?

2019 Jhonattan Vegas 16th
2018 Alex Noren 3rd, Webb Simpson 5th
2017 Wesley Bryan 4th, Cody Gribble 70th 
2016 Sergio Garcia 2nd, Michael Thompson 53rd
2015 Jim Herman 7th

Notes: Recent R1 leaders have a solid top-five record but the last man to win after looking down on the field after day one was Justin Leonard in 2003. Sergio Garcia finished runner-up in 2016, as did Rory McIlroy, the 2014 first-round leader after a 63.

 

Focus on - Tom Lewis

Victory in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship opened the door to some extent for Tom Lewis but he had to rely on a sponsor exemption to get into this week's field. He explained his position when talking to the press after today's 66: "The back end of last year obviously when I won that Korn Ferry final, I thought, this is going to be great, I'm going to have opportunities left, right and center, but obviously it hasn't happened. I can't get anything really. I've got to play good to get in stuff, and hopefully sponsors like me, but I've got a lot of good opportunities coming over the next couple of months, so hopefully if I can play as well as I did today, then maybe I can sneak a win and I won't have to ask sponsors." Asked about his schedule, Lewis added: "It's difficult. I don't even know where I'm playing. I was hoping I'd play (Bay Hill) next week. I didn't get in next week. So another two weeks off, then come back, play Valspar I think it is, and let's just see. Hopefully if I can shoot four scores 4-under par, then my schedule becomes a little easier to plan."

 

Focus on - Wyndham Clark

With a tied seventh on debut and some encouraging recent form, Clark was a popular pick with gamers/bettors this week. He opened 69-67-67 at PGA National last year to hold the 54-hole lead so is surely a candidate to trot out the classic "it suits me" quote, especially after he added a 68 in round one today. Far from it. A refreshingly honest Clark said later: "It's funny, it really doesn't suit my game. I just played a lot here growing up. Tons of junior events, so I've seen the course a lot. It's very tough, and if you're off your game at all, it's very penal. It's funny, I don't really feel like it suits my game, but for some reason I score out here."

 

Focus on - Adjusting from altitude

"We played at such a high altitude last week, and all of a sudden you're hitting a chippy 6-iron from like 170 at times. It's such a difference from last week." So said Tommy Fleetwood after completing his even-par 70. So is there anything in that? Did those who played four rounds hitting to funky yardages at the WGC-Mexico struggle and was it a slight advantage to have skipped the event high up at Chapultepec? Here's the leaderboard and what they did last week:

-4 Tom Lewis - MC Puerto Rico
-4 Harris English - Didn't play
-3 Cameron Tringale - Didn't play
-3 Zach Johnson - Didn't play
-3 J.T. Poston - Didn't play
-3 Lee Westwood - T22 Mexico
-3 Brian Stuard - Didn't play

It's limited evidence and this week's field is hardly packed with those who played in Mexico but virtually all the leaders didn't have to contend with any adjustment.


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