Charles Howell III has never missed the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard since he joined the PGA TOUR in 2001, but he’s never had a more enjoyable round than his Friday run at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
Howell, 31, who lives in Orlando, fired a 7-under-par 65 on a sunny and calm morning on the Championship Course, his lowest round here by three shots and just his fourth round in the 60s. His reward is a spot just three strokes behind leader Martin Laird as the weekend commences.
Always a good ball-striker, Howell has been concentrating on his short game in recent months. Not just his putting – though that has been stellar with 26 putts Friday after 29 putts Thursday – but the rest of the ensemble.
“I think the guys that kind of get it rolling and get it going, I think their short games get maybe just a touch sharper and their scoring gets just a little bit better,” Howell, tied for second, said. “I’ve worked on it a lot this off‑season, and a lot as the season started. Sometimes the results don't show when you want them to show.”
MEDIATE HURT, BUT NOT OUT
Rocco Mediate always gets a bit more motivated at Bay Hill with fellow Pennsylvania native and mentor Arnold Palmer hosting the tournament. But it took more than motivation for him to make just his first cut since January.
Mediate won last year’s Fry’s.com Open despite torn tendons in his left elbow, but the injury has only worsened since he tied for 57th at the Sony Open in Hawaii. In his last five events he’s either missed the cut or withdrawn. So his even-par 72 Friday was a welcome result after opening with a 70.
“The elbow is killing me,” Mediate said. “It’s not a surgical thing yet. Might be at the end of the year. Thing is, I’m actually hitting it good, and I love hard golf courses. This is my favorite week. I’m very pleased.”
SAUNDERS MAKES CUT AGAIN
Bay Hill member Sam Saunders made his second cut in as many tries here after a 1-over 73 Friday. It was a gutsy effort by the second-year pro after going 4 over after six holes Thursday, meaning he played his last 30 holes in 1 under. Still, he was more frustrated than satisfied, especially after a double bogey at the home hole.
“Forget the cut. I’m trying to win the tournament,” said Saunders, 23, whose goal now is a top-10 finish with 36 holes to go. “I’m hitting the ball well, I’m putting well, but it’s been a matter of inches for two days from being really good. I didn’t hit too many bad shots, but I guess I have to hit it a little better.”
Grandfather was proud. “To have held it together after he got to 4 over par Thursday, I thought, was pretty darn good,” Arnold Palmer said. “I think that shows he’s progressing as a player, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does from here.”