PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Brendon de Jonge rolled in a pair of long putts on his way to a 2-under-par 69 and the 36-hole lead Friday in the Valspar Championship on Friday.
Based on the holes remaining, he is halfway home to his first PGA Tour title. Considering how many players are still in the mix — essentially everyone who made the cut — the weekend might feel longer.
Only seven shots separated de Jonge from the players who made the cut on the number, the first time the first-to-worst gap has been that small since the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s.
“Obviously gives you a good chance for the weekend,” de Jonge said. He was at 6-under 136, the highest score to lead after 36 holes at Innisbrook in six years.
De Jonge said that after he finished his round in the morning, uncertain how hard the wind would blow and who might get hot with the putter. The wind died, no one could sustain a great round without a few mistakes and he had the 36-hole lead for the fourth time in his career.
But not by much.
Jordan Spieth made a birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th for a 4-under 67 to match the best score of the round. Henrik Stenson, playing the Copperhead course for the first time and apparently enjoying it, made eagle on his first hole and wound up with a 70.
They were one shot behind, along with Ryan Moore (68), Kevin Streelman (69) and Derek Ernst (70).
Ernst, who had only one round in the 60s this year, ran off five straight birdies around the turn to reach 8-under par until he started missing greens, missing putts and making bogeys to fall one shot behind de Jonge.
“Starting the day if you told me I would have shot 1 under I would have been very happy with it,” Ernst said.
Lucas Glover had a 69 and joined Moore and Streelman as the only players to break 70s for both rounds. He was two shots behind, along with Sean O’Hair (72), Ricky Barnes (72) and Ian Poulter (70). Poulter hasn’t been to Innisbrook since 2010, and he was asked what had kept him away.
“Because I’m a buffoon,” Poulter said. “I mean, stupid. This golf course I can compete on because it’s fiddly, it’s position off the tee, small greens, need to chip it well, good pace putting when you’re above the hole. All those things I do well.”
Poulter recalls the greens being sloppy the last time he played, and so he instructed his caddie to never allow him to return. Seven holes into his pro-am round, he said he told his caddie, “What the ... was I doing not being here?”
Justin Thomas (72) and Vijay Singh (70) were in the group at 3-under 139, with Luke Donald (68), Matt Kuchar (70) and Patrick Reed (68) among those four behind.
Adam Scott is about the only guy who doesn’t have a chance because he didn’t make the cut. Scott missed four putts from inside 5 feet on his way to a 75 and missed the cut by three shots. It’s the first time he had the weekend off at a golf tournament since the 2012 Byron Nelson Championship.
Tiger won’t be at Bay Hill
Tiger Woods will not be at Bay Hill next week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the second tournament he has missed since stating a month ago that he would not return to golf until his game was ready.
Woods still wasn’t ruling out the Masters in a brief statement Friday on his website.
“I’ve put in a lot of time and work on my game and I’m making strides,” Woods said. “But like I’ve said, I won’t return to the PGA Tour until my game is tournament ready and I can compete at the highest level.”
Woods is an eight-time winner at Bay Hill.
Otaegui LEADS in South Africa: Spain’s Adrian Otaegui shot an 8-under 62 at Pretoria Country Club to take a two-shot lead in the Tshwane Open.
Otaegui needed to birdie the final two holes for the first 59 in European Tour history but parred No. 17 and bogeyed the last. He had an 11-under 129 total.
South Africa’s Merrick Bremner was second after a 66.
Ladies European Tour
PARK IN FRONT: In Haikou, China, defending champion Inbee Park shot a 4-under 69 to take a one-stroke lead after the second round of the Ladies European Tour’s World Ladies Championship.
The second-ranked Park had an 8-under 138 total on Mission Hills’ Blackstone Course. The South Korean star won the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore on Sunday for her 13th LPGA Tour title.
England’s Holly Clyburn (65) and China’s Lin Xiyu (68) were tied for second.