Rory McIlroy, who decided to play on the PGA TOUR in 2010 because the money and world ranking points are better, and Tommy Fleetwood, who took up a PGA TOUR card for the 2018 season, are tied at the top at 12-under par after two rounds of THE PLAYERS.
McIlroy is dug in to American culture and life.
“I have an American wife,” he told Golf World in January 2019. “I live in America. Honestly, I enjoy it here more. The way of life is easier. The weather. The convenience.”
Fleetwood obviously paid attention to the moves of other European players and jumped ship to the U.S. in 2018. So, now, he’s almost ours. At least until the 2020 Ryder Cup, when he changes affections for a week. Fleetwood might not be an aficionado of McDonalds just yet, but he’ll get there when his kids want Happy Meals. You cannot fight Ronald McDonald.
Local favorite Jim Furyk is on their heels, three shots behind at 9-under. After shooting a 1-under 71 on a blustery Thursday afternoon, Furyk played in calmer conditions on Friday morning, shooting a course-best 8-under 64, his lowest score in 80 rounds at THE PLAYERS. Starting the day tied at 53rd, Furyk strung together eight birdies and 10 pars to take the lead by the end of the round.
“You're not going to fudge your way around this golf course for very long, if that makes sense,” Furyk said after round two. “There's a lot of hard edges and hard lines and a very small window between what turns out really well at times and what ends up being a double bogey at times.”
Furyk is tied with Englishman Ian Poulter, who has spent many years living quite happily in Orlando. The flamboyant Ryder Cup stalwart for Europe with all the Ferraris in his central Florida garage is not a long hitter, but he is a straight hitter. When his putter is on, his golf balls are like heat-seeking missiles headed for the hole.
“I used to set goals,” Poulter, who is 43, said. “I haven't set really many goals of late, apart from just slowly trying to creep back in the top 30, creep back in the top 20 and try and get back in the top 10 in the world rankings, that's really what I would consider success.”
He’s trying to compete with golfers half his age.
“I feel the way I'm playing I can certainly move a bit further up that board,” Poulter said.
Saturday, though, promises surprises, depending on which weather forecast you believe.
Tiger Woods said he heard it was going to be nice on Saturday and cool and windy on Sunday.
One local TV weather report called for 68 degrees for Saturday with partly cloudy conditions and wind from the north, northwest at 12 mph; followed by Sunday, with a high of 60, winds from the north, northeast at 15 mph and a chance of showers. So, is Tiger Woods right? Or the local weather report? We are about to find out.
One thing is sure, McIlroy, Fleetwood and Poulter have played in their share of nasty European Tour weather. Furyk is from Pennsylvania, where a groundhog predicts the end of winter. Mudders all.
Each is sure to have some kind of bobble on Pete Dye’s brutal track in the final 36 holes. In addition, there are others in the cast of golfers at THE PLAYERS, including former champ Jason Day, who is 8-under. And to hand a trophy, particularly a 24-karat gold vermeil trophy, to anyone before the last hole on the last day is folly.
We may come to the end of the round Saturday and see a completely different list of golfers in the mix. Jason Day, Kevin Kisner, Brian Harman, Abraham Ancer, Kevin Mitchell and others. Even Dustin Johnson crept into the top 10 at 7-under.
If you believe in foreshadowing, however, remember that Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day and Rory McIlroy is from Northern Ireland.
Then again, 33 million people in the U.S. say they have Irish ancestors, according to Wikipedia. Apparently, that’s significantly more people than there are in both Northern Ireland and Ireland today.
After Friday’s cutline at 1-under par, the following will not be playing this weekend: Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Henrik Stenson, Sam Saunders, Vijay Singh and Paul Casey
Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka just made the cut.
And as Tiger Woods said, anyone who makes the cut still has a chance to win.