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From sixth alternate to 62, Fowler responds to Faldo's barb, and Bryan strips down to disastrous results

March 19, 2021

Brandon Hagy plays his shot from the 15th tee during the second round of the Honda Classic.

Jared C. Tilton

As of Tuesday night he was 2,000 miles away from the tournament site. Wasn’t in the event until Wednesday. Never got a chance to play a practice round. So how the heck is Brandon Hagy in contention at the Honda Classic?

“It’s been a funny week,” Hagy conceded. “You know, maybe I’m feeling like I’m playing on a little bit of house money a little bit, so I kept it pretty loose out there. I just tried to have a good feeling for every shot and I am just kind of grateful for the opportunity.”

Six players had to withdraw from the Honda for Hagy, 29, to earn a spot in the field. Initially he had planned to Monday qualify into the event, and if that failed would play in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Louisiana Open, but Hagy decided to scrap that itinerary for practice in Scottsdale before flying to the Dominican Republic for next week’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. But after three COVID-19-positive tests knocked out Gary Woodland, Doc Redman and Scott Piercy, Hagy realized he had a shot to play at the Honda, so he hopped on a late flight Tuesday night and rolled into Palm Beach Gardens Wednesday morning.

However, Hagy had to wait on his own COVID-19 test results, keeping him from PGA National Wednesday. Without a look at the course, Hagy turned in a first-round 69, then on Friday went out and torched the property with a 31-31 for an eight-under 62.

“It felt good that I had an opportunity to play,” Hagy said, who’s three behind 36-hole leader Aaron Wise. “I think that’s the best way to say it."

This is new territory for Hagy. In 80 career tour starts he owns a lone top-10 finish, coming at the 2017 RBC Canadian Open. And this season has not exactly been prosperous, as he ranks 178th in the FedEx Cup at the start of the week. Still, in spite of his “happy to be here” mindset, don’t expect Hagy to be a bystander this weekend.

“Practicing is great back home and stuff, but this is why we practice, to be in these type of positions,” Hagy said. “And to have the opportunity on a tough golf course like this to hit the shots that I’m hitting, it feels good.”

Four other takeaways from Day 2 at the Honda Classic.

Rickie Fowler plays his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the Honda Classic.

Jared C. Tilton

Fowler responds to Faldo’s dig, adds Masters insurance

Rickie Fowler was hovering at the cut line through eight holes Friday, one over on his day and in the event and staring down his fourth missed weekend in his last six starts. But the former Players champ answered and answered with vigor, birdieing four of his final 10 holes to shoot two-under 68 and safely make it into Saturday.

Granted, Fowler is a player judged by more than simply making it four rounds. Yet when mired in a slump, something as simple as getting more swings can be the light you’re seeking in the darkness.

“I think part of it has just been the patience part and sticking it out and kind of keeping grinding, keep working, keep kicking down the door and it’s going to fall down at some point here,” Fowler said. “I know we’re getting close and the last two days were good. This is a golf course that tests all parts of the game, so I’m happy; 70-68 is not terrible around this place. I know it could have been better, but we got a tee time tomorrow and see if we can go put some good numbers up this weekend and give ourselves a chance.”

Fowler also addressed the outside noise about his game, which in recent weeks has included a barb from six-time major winner and CBS Sports analyst Nick Faldo. To Fowler, it was nothing personal.

“No, I know where Nick was trying to come from on that and it’s like competitor to competitor, you’re trying to needle each other and get each other going type of thing,” Fowler said. “I am fortunate to have some great partners and make some great commercials, and it’s been fun to be able to do that. I would much rather be playing the week of the Masters than working. But it’s all part of it. I’m going to keep kicking down the door; if we’re able to do something special in the next few weeks before Augusta, we’ll be there. If not, we’ll keep grinding and we’ll be back in the winner’s circle soon.”

At the moment Fowler, No. 81 in the world, remains on the outside looking in at the Masters. It would be the first Masters the 32-year-old has missed since 2010, and Fowler’s major streak extends to the 2010 Open Championship. However, should he not win this week at the Honda, he’ll get one more crack earning an invitational when he plays in the Valero Texas Open the week before the Masters, as Fowler committed to the final tour stop before Augusta on Thursday.

Getty Images

PGA National lays down on Day 2

The Champion course is consistently one of the hardest tracks on tour. Through Round 1 that was the case, the field averaging a stroke-and-a-half over par. Only Winged Foot, Memorial Park and Torrey Pines have higher Thursday averages this season.

But most of PGA National’s bite is predicated off the wind, which brings the ever-present water into play. So with the breezes down off the Atlantic Friday, the field took advantage of a gettable course.

There was Hagy’s 62. Sam Ryder turned in a 63. Wise, Stewart Cink and Brice Garnett weren’t far behind with 64s. The morning wave toured PGA National nearly a stroke lower (70.47) on Friday, and the afternoon group wasn’t getting the business end of the draw by any means.

“Yeah, I mean, the wind wasn’t as strong today, at least for us,” Hagy said. “I think there are some birdie holes, so you take advantage of those and then you play the right shot on the tough holes.”

“It’s not playing as hard as it was yesterday afternoon, for sure,” Lee Westwood said. “If you play well there’s a score out there for you.”

But for those with a taste for the sadistic, you’re in luck: Weekend forecasts show a heavy dose of wind. Coupled with a rash of red on the leader board, don’t expect many favorable pin placements, either.

Lee Westwood reacts on the 10th green during the second round of the Honda Classic.

Jared C. Tilton

Westwood’s run runs out of gas

Westwood enjoyed a revival over the past 14 months, but the last two weeks—runner-up finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship—were a special kind of time-machine theatrics. Unfortunately, some stars shine so bright they burn out before they can be fully appreciated, which is why PGA National turned the lights out on Westwood’s galactic fireworks.

After opening with an even-par 70, the Englishman was undone by three doubles Friday en route to an eight-over 78 to miss the cut by a mile. That he entered Round 2 was an achievement in itself; Westwood lacked the vigor seen at Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass on Thursday, and on Friday morning was visibly gassed, a notion he acknowledged afterwards.

“Yeah. About four days ago,” Westwood said when asked if he ran out of gas. “Yeah, no, I think we both know that this was probably a tournament too far for me, after the run I’ve had the last two weeks. But I felt like I should play here this week. But in an ideal world this would have been a week off after finishing second the last two weeks. What can you do? Just felt like one I had to play. Kind of glazed over out there I was so tired.”

A sentiment encapsulated on the fourth hole, where two uphill putts off the green failed to reach the putting surface. Westwood said his body was asking him for a break, which he’ll now receive.

“My body was telling me last Sunday. It was. I didn’t swing it as well Sunday last week. I was starting to get tired,” Westwood said. “Three weeks in a row with not really a day off. So, yeah. I am 48 in a month and I can’t keep doing it like the 20-year-olds do it.”

There won’t be much of a sabbatical, as Westwood is scheduled to play in next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, with the Masters two weeks later. Hopefully this is a minor detour in Westwood’s revival. But should these proof to be more than a pit stop, don’t be sad that it ended. Smile because it happened.

There are some things you can’t unsee

Listen, it stinks to have your bracket busted in the first round, or watch your school get bounced before the Sweet 16. Feels like you’ve been dumped on Valentine’s Day after you’ve already purchased flowers and hired a violinist to do a rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” outside on the lawn. (Uh, not that we know from experience or anything.) It can make a man do ill-advised things.

Which is the only explanation for why Wesley Bryan decided to de-robe to hit a shot out of the mud. Or suppose the proper description is “try to hit.”

Give Bryan this: He was already nine over, no chance to make the weekend. But damned if that cat didn’t still give it his all. The lesson, as always: Never try, kids.