April 15th, 2024

Comeback Cauley leads after two rounds at PGA National

By The Associated Press on March 1, 2024.

S.H. Kim of South Korea drops his putt on the 17th hole during the first round of the Cognizant Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – Bud Cauley is leading on the PGA Tour. That might not have seemed likely a few years ago.

Cauley – who was seriously injured in a 2018 car crash and is playing a Tour event for only the third time in nearly 4 1/2 years – shot a 6-under 65 on Friday at PGA National to take a one-shot lead after 36 holes of the Cognizant Classic.

Cauley has 11 birdies and no bogeys over his last 27 holes. He made a 12-footer for birdie at the par-5 18th on Friday as darkness began settling in, posting 11-under 131 and giving him his first 36-hole lead on Tour since the Valero Texas Open in 2017.

“My expectation was to come out and compete, and I felt like my game was in a good spot,” Cauley said. “Saying it is one thing, doing it is another. I’m really happy with how I’ve played. I feel like my game has been trending in the right way. I’ve been hitting the ball well and just needed some scoring things to start.”

Austin Eckroat (67) and Garrick Higgo (65) were a shot back. Kevin Yu (67) and Victor Perez (66) were tied for fourth at 9 under, while Shane Lowry and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy (both 67 for a second consecutive day) were part of a group three shots off the pace.

Cauley broke six ribs and sustained other injuries in the 2018 crash and didn’t play on Tour for four months. Everything seemed fine for a couple of years – until it wasn’t. Bone had grown over the plates that were installed in his ribs, a slew of problems popped up, multiple surgeries were needed and Cauley couldn’t help but wonder if his best golf was behind him.

“There were a lot of times where I thought that my career was over,” Cauley said. “To be back here playing and playing well, it’s nice. It just makes me that much more happy that I kept after it and didn’t stop trying.”

A couple of top-35 finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour in January gave him some momentum. He made the cut in his return to tour play at Phoenix last month and now finds himself in the mix at PGA National.

Of the top five players at the midway point, only one is ranked in the top 100: Perez is 97th. Eckroat is 101st.

Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., is tied for 31st at 3 under, while Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., is tied for 49th at 2 under. Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., and Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., are tied for 76th at 1 under. Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C. is tied for 101st at even par.

“Solid,” Eckroat told Golf Channel after his four-birdie, no-bogey round. “Really stress-free golf for the most part. “¦ Just solid all around.”

Not everybody had a stress-free day. Thomas Detry shot 80, missing the cut by 13 shots – and grabbing attention for his blow-up on the par-4 6th.

Detry had a 50-footer for birdie. He knocked that putt about six feet past the hole, then missed the par putt, then missed a three-footer for bogey, then missed a tap-in, then missed another three-footer before tapping in to finally complete a six-putt, quadruple-bogey 8.

Rickie Fowler made the weekend, shooting 67 after a 71 on Thursday.

“I needed to shoot a decent round to make sure I got into the weekend,” Fowler said.

His first hole was more than decent.

The 2017 winner at PGA National opened on the back nine, and the par-5 10th – which played as a par 4 last year – is set up for birdies. Fowler flirted with an albatross; his approach from 193 yards rolled just past the right of the cup and stopped close enough to give him a tap-in eagle.

He started the first round tied for 96th; he was tied for 36th after Friday.

Chad Ramey, who entered Friday tied for the lead, shot a 72 and was 6 under. Defending champion Chris Kirk (70) made the cut with ease at 5 under, tied for 23rd with, among others, Billy Horschel (71), Matt Fitzpatrick (67) and Nick Dunlap – whose round of 70 was highlighted by an ace at the par-3, 7th hole.

“I think somebody on the balcony of one of the houses screamed, and we figured it probably went in,” Dunlap said.

First-round co-leader S.H. Kim shot a 74, 10 strokes worse than Thursday, and was 4 under.

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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