World No. 1 Jordan Spieth on Friday crashed out of the Northern Trust Open, with fellow US golfer Jason Kokrak leading by a single shot and Rory McIlroy firmly in the mix after the second round.
Reigning US Open and Masters champion Spieth bounced back from the worst opening round of his career with a three-under par 68 — 11 shots better than on Thursday — but still missed the cut.
Spieth said that sloppy iron play and not enough practice time on the driving range was his downfall, but he vowed not to brood over his disappointment at the Riviera Country Club.
“I will be ready to go in the next tournament. I am not going to let this one get to me very much,” Spieth said. “We rebounded in perfect form last year on just about every missed cut. We’ll be fine.”
It was just the third missed cut in the 22-year-old Texan’s past 20 worldwide starts and the first time he has missed one since last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.
Long-hitting Kokrak surged up the leaderboard with a seven-under 64 to finish at 10-under 132 after 36 holes in the US$6.8 million PGA Tour event. Chez Reavie fired a 67 and was alone in second at nine-under 133.
The US’ Dustin Johnson, who finished second to Bubba Watson at Riviera in 2014 and lost a sudden-death playoff to James Hahn last year, shot a 66 and was tied for third with Watson (68) and Troy Merritt (66) in the event, which concludes the tour’s west coast swing.
World No. 3 McIlroy had another solid round, carding a two-under 69 leaving him tied for seventh at six-under 136, four adrift of Kokrak.
Spieth was hoping to use the event as a stepping stone ahead of defending the Masters title at Augusta National. However, a disappointing eight-over 79 in the first round put him 12 shots back of McIlroy.
“I guess Rory is considering this as the start to his run at the Masters,” Spieth said of the first major of the season that begins on April 7.
“This was not my start to the run at the Masters. Mine will start the next time,” he added.
McIlroy would complete a career Grand Slam with a victory at the Masters, where he had a four-shot lead heading into the final round in 2011 before a spectacular collapse.
Spieth plans to take next week off and then compete at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Donald Trump’s Doral course in Florida.
McIlroy started quickly with birdies on two of his first three holes on what is considered a shotmakers course, and he certainly had that part of his game on display on Friday, especially on the par-five 17, where his aggressive approach saw him reach the green in just two, while his playing partners Hideki Matsuyama and Matt Kucher both laid up. His eagle putt stopped two feet short for an easy birdie.
“I just need to get off to a fast start tomorrow [yesterday], get myself close to the leaders and play a good, solid round and see where that puts me going into Sunday,” McIlroy said.
Kokrak, ranked ninth on the tour in driving distance, is seeking his first win on the PGA Tour. His best finish was a second at the Frys.com Open four years ago.
“This is one of the best fields on the Tour,” Kokrak said.
“So there are plenty of guys out there. I just have to stick to my game plan and try to hit good shots,” he added.
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