USPGA Tour rookie Luke Guthrie shot a sparkling seven-under 63 for a one-stroke lead after the second round of the Honda Classic on Friday, while world No. 1 Rory McIlroy abruptly withdrew, citing a toothache.
Tiger Woods struggled to a second consecutive even-par 70 that left him one shot from missing the cut and nine strokes behind the lead going into yesterday’s third round.
Guthrie, 23, was flawless as he carded seven birdies to move into the driver’s seat with a one-stroke lead over compatriot Michael Thompson (65).
Canadian Graham DeLaet (68) and the US’ Boo Weekley (67) were a further shot off the pace.
However, the attention was all on McIlroy, who pulled out on his ninth hole after a nightmare start to his second round, dropping seven shots from his opening eight holes with a triple-bogey, a double-bogey and two bogeys.
The Northern Irishman, who before the tournament conceded he was adjusting to his Nike clubs after switching from Titleist in January and had also complained of swing troubles, released a statement saying he had severe wisdom-tooth pain.
“It began bothering me again last night,” McIlroy said. “It was very painful again this morning and I was simply unable to concentrate. It was really bothering me and had begun to affect my playing partners.”
Earlier, while talking to reporters as he headed to his car, McIlroy did not mention a toothache, but instead talked of being in a “bad place mentally.”
While much will be made of the inconsistencies and manner of the defending champion’s departure, fans of the popular 23-year-old should perhaps be more concerned about his form.
Struggling with his swing, he was eliminated in the opening round of last week’s WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship in Arizona, after missing the cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January.
With McIlroy gone and Woods out of contention, there was an unfamilar look atop the leaderboard, and those concerned with ratings will hope some of the seasoned names can put themselves in the frame for the final round today.
Britain’s Lee Westwood (68) and Australian Geoff Ogilvy (66) put themselves in contention, as they are part of a group of six players sitting three shots back of Guthrie.
Westwood said he was taking a cautious approach to the challenging course, which on Friday remained very soft, with frequent mud on balls.
“It’s a tough setup and it’s one of the more demanding tests of the year,” the Englishman said. “There’s trouble out there; if you get a good game plan, then you can get around it. Once you start getting a bit cute and chasing, it can bite you.”
Woods had his share of trouble, needing to get out of difficulty on the final two holes to make sure he made the cut.
On the 17th hole Woods got up and down despite a tricky bunker shot, and managed par on the par-five 18th, despite finding the fairway bunker on his tee shot and going way wide into the spectator area with his second shot.
“I didn’t quite have my game like I did yesterday. I hit it much better yesterday, but I putted better today so it all evened out,” Woods said.
“I’ve got to get something going here. There’s 70-plus guys within nine shots of the lead, just pretty bunched. Anybody in this tournament can win it,” he added.