Steele takes slim lead at Honda Classic




American Brendan Steel on the way to a three-under par 67 and a one-shot halfway lead in the US PGA Tour Honda Classic
American Brendan Steel on the way to a three-under par 67 and a one-shot halfway lead in the US PGA Tour Honda Classic  

Miami (AFP) - Brendan Steele, robbed of a hole in one in heartbreaking style, still emerged with the halfway lead at the Honda Classic, where he fired a three-under par 67 for a one-stroke edge on Friday.

Steele's five birdies at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, included a stunning tee shot at the par-three 15th that circled the cup, dipped down and popped out to leave him inches for birdie.

"I wish it would have gone in, but I was happy to tap in," said Steele, who is chasing a fourth US PGA Tour title.

The American had climbed the leaderboard with a 10-foot birdie putt at the second, a six-footer at the 10th and a 19-foot birdie at 13.

After failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker at 16 he drained another 10-footer for birdie at 17, and even a bogey at 18 -- where his second shot was over the green and in the water -- left him alone atop the leaderboard on five-under 135.

England's Lee Westwood and Luke Donald and American J.T. Poston were a stroke back on 136 and US Open champion Gary Woodland shared fifth place with fellow American Nick Watney, Austrian Sepp Straka and Australian Cameron Davis on 137.

On another day when low scores were hard to come by, Donald had eight birdies in his four-under 66 -- bouncing back after three bogeys in his first five holes. Westwood and Poston both posted 69s.

"I like it when conditions are tough," Donald said. "That's when I play my best, especially with this northwesterly wind, the course tends to play a bit tougher this way. You've got to be patient, got to pick your spots to attack."

- Koepka misses cut -

World number three Brooks Koepka blamed putting problems for a second straight 74 that saw him miss the cut.

The four-time major winner said his difficulties had nothing to do with the left knee injury that hindered him late last year, prompting him to have stem cell therapy in August.

"I'm fine," Koepka said. "It's nothing to do with my knee. It's just me."

Koepka missed half a dozen putts from within 10 feet -- chipping in for his only birdie of the day. One day after a triple bogey and a double bogey marred his card, he had two double bogeys.

"Struck it really well," Koepka said. "Really pleased with how I'm hitting it. Putter, I just haven't putted well."

England's Tommy Fleetwood was challenging for the lead after four birdies on the front nine, but a double bogey and two late bogeys coming in left him in a group on 138.

Playing partner Justin Rose fared even worse, firing a 74 to join Koepka, Rickie Fowler and defending champion Keith Mitchell on the wrong side of the cut line.

"There's really no easy shots out there, no easy holes," said Steele, who goes into the weekend seeking his first title since he won two straight Safeway Opens in 2017 and 2018.

For him, that's good news.

"I feel like I can make birdies on this course maybe more than other guys can, and I don't necessarily feel that way a lot of weeks," he said. "That gives me some confidence, and I definitely feel like harder is usually better for me."

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