Crowded At The Top
Davis' four-shot lead shrank to one when PGA National showed its teeth.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Dudley Hart spent some of Friday afternoon poised to turn The Honda Classic into a runaway. Later in the day, it was Brian Davis' turn to take what seemed like a huge lead.
But PGA National eventually caught up with them.
And by nightfall, the Honda leaderboard was muddled again.
Davis shot a 3-under 67 to finish the day at 8 under, one shot better than Matt Jones (67) and two shots ahead of Hart -- a former South Florida resident whose last victory was at the 2000 Honda, and who peeled off six straight birdies in a 66.
"Around this course, I think you'd need about a 20-shot lead with one round to go," Davis said. "You know around here, it's going to come down to the last nine holes, just the way the course is set up. I can't see anybody getting a six-shot lead out there tomorrow."
He almost had one Friday.
After a bogey-free opening round, Davis started his second round just as precisely, getting to 10 under at one point and four shots clear of the field.
Then this diabolical course -- as it typically does -- began to fight back.
Davis made a double bogey at the par-3 seventh, his 16th of the day, then missed the green to the right and slid a 10-foot par try just past the cup on his final hole.
"I'm sure every player's got a few hiccups around here," Davis said.
Some fewer than others, though.
John Mallinger (67) and Ben Crane (66) were tied for fourth, three shots off the lead. Ernie Els shot a 70 and was in a group of six players, including Mark Calcavecchia and Robert Allenby, five shots back of Davis.
First-round leader Luke Donald shot a 74, including a quadruple bogey on the 14th, to fall six shots back.
Hart played in the afternoon, when the wind picked up and the course, theoretically, was significantly harder than in the morning session. But he went out in 29, and only a double bogey at the par-3 17th kept him from finishing the day with a share of the lead.
"You don't birdie six in a row very often," Hart said. "You know, everybody out here has gone through stretches where they have done that. It's just hard to describe, really. Just things are clicking right, and the putts are falling, and good things are happening."
Most players at PGA National didn't have the same sentiment.
Defending champion Mark Wilson shot his second straight 73 and missed the cut, along with other notables Mike Weir, Chris DiMarco. Rich Beem and Fred Funk. Tadd Fujikawa, the 17-year-old from Honolulu, still hasn't made the cut as a pro after missing by 10 shots, and David Duval missed by six.
The cut was 4-over 144, and 77 players made it -- meaning the tour's new "second cut" policy won't come into play after Saturday's round. If more than 78 advanced Friday, the tour would have trimmed again to the low 70 and ties following the third round, under an amended plan newly installed this week.
Duval, like Hart, has a major medical exemption this year because of health problems endured by his wife in 2007. Hart -- whose wife fell seriously ill last year but is now healthy -- is only about $150,000 shy of what he needed to make this year, yet says he isn't spending much time thinking about it.
"I came out this year and I just said, you know, I'm going to try to work hard, play well and if I make the money and do it, then great," said Hart, who made more than $300,000 with a third-place finish at Pebble Beach. "But if I don't, it's not going to kill me. I have three kids, a healthy wife at home and a lot of good things going on there."
Duval hasn't bounced back so well.
He was over par on eight of his 18 holes Friday, including three double bogeys. Duval hasn't earned a penny this year in five starts, meaning he has 15 chances left to make the $713,235 he needs to reach what would have been 125th on last year's money list.
Davis is on pace to make that, and plenty more, this weekend.
With seven first-time champions in the past 12 years, the Honda -- which pays $990,000 to the winner -- is a haven for those seeking a breakthrough victory, a fact not lost on Davis.
He's 0-for-98 on tour. He's never had such a good chance to change that, either.
"It's a welcome return to form," Davis said. "And it's where you want to be."
Notes:@ Scott Hoch, who entered the Honda after two straight wins on the Champions Tour, made the cut on the number. ... Tim Petrovic withdrew because of a neck injury after completing eight holes, the last two resulting in double bogeys. ... Carl Petterson holed a 30-yarder for eagle at the par-5 third hole, highlighting his round of 66 that got him within six shots of the lead. ... Tag Ridings, who didn't have a bogey in his first 22 holes, finished with seven Friday -- but still squeaked into the weekend on the cut line.