PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Ryan Palmer has reason to believe that better days are ahead — with his golf game and at home.
Palmer made seven birdies Friday on another day of ideal scoring conditions at PGA National for a 5-under 65 that gave him a share of the lead with PGA Tour rookie Wesley Bryan (67) going into the weekend at the Honda Classic.
Starting a new year packed with uncertainty over matters far more important than golf, Palmer returned from a four-month break and missed the cut in his first four events. He signed up for Riviera only because his game needed work, and he saw enough go right to find some momentum going into Florida.
The long break was to be at home with his wife, Jennifer, who is recovering from breast cancer.
She was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in late July while he was at the Canadian Open. She had surgery about five weeks later. Palmer’s season ended in September, and he spent the rest of the year helping her cope with chemotherapy and their two children at home.
“I watched a few tournaments,” Palmer said. “There were times when she said I should have gone and played. I was going to play Vegas and I was going to play Malaysia, but after that, there was no way I could play golf. Enjoyed time at home, took care of the kids. But it was a lot of hard times, for sure.”
She was diagnosed relatively early, and the timing helped in other ways.
Palmer was able to reach out to Stewart Cink, whose wife is battling breast cancer. And the week after he learned his wife had breast cancer, Palmer sought out Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship. Mickelson’s wife was diagnosed in 2009.
“And he went right to work and made phone calls for me,” Palmer said. “I can’t think him enough for what he did. It’s been a long ride.”
Bryan had a rough start to his rookie season until turning it around last week at Riviera, where he got within two shots of Dustin Johnson at one point in the third round until the new world No. 1 pulled away to win easily.
On the other side of the country, the player famous for his trick-shot videos with brother George Bryan was right back at it. Along with five birdies, his biggest moment was a bogey on the 13th hole when his only option was using a putter to get out of the trees. He holed an 8-foot bogey putt to keep in range, and then he holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th to tie for the lead.
“Don’t like making bogeys, but any time you find yourself using a putter out of the trees for your second shot, it’s not good,” he said. “Glad to settle for bogey there and glad to get one on 18, tied for the lead going into the weekend.”
The cut was at even-par 140, matching the highest cut since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.
Among those missing the cut was Shawn Stefani, but not without doing all he could. One over the cut line with four holes to go, he drove into the water on No. 6, stripped down to his underwear and blasted out to the fairway. He still made bogey.
Palmer said he kept his swing in good shape during the time off. The problem was his putter.
“The greens, all hell broke loose — the nerves, anxiety, right hand. I spent four weeks going through that,” he said.
He worked with Dave Stockton and his son on putting during the three days leading to the Genesis Open at Riviera, opened with a 68 and saw good results, even though he tied for 49th.
“Felt like it was the best putting I’ve done in a year and a half, and it’s carried over to this week,” he said.
Fowler also started 66-66 a year ago, becoming the first player to go bogey-free over the opening 36 holes at PGA National, which has been the site of the Honda Classic in 2007. But he went 71-74 on the weekend and was never a factor.
Fowler feels as though his game is in good shape. Now he’d like to finish it off. He hasn’t won anywhere since Abu Dhabi a year ago, and his last PGA Tour victory was over Labor Day weekend in 2015.
“I feel like it’s time for me to start finishing off some more events when I am in this position,” Fowler said. “I wouldn’t look just back at this specific event, but there’s been a few where I’ve had a chance, and I feel very good out front or around the guys in the lead. I’m looking forward to this weekend.”