Several big names lurk near the top of the 2013 Honda Classic leaderboard after Friday's action. But 23-year-old Luke Guthrie leads the pack of surprising contenders.
Top-10 players Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and two U.S. Open champions in Graeme McDowell and Geoff Ogilvy headline the elite competition that the players with much to prove this weekend will have to negotiate.
Here is a breakdown on Guthrie and the other underrated players who have a chance to get their first win on the PGA Tour.
Other young American stars—particularly Patrick Cantlay—get more publicity than the 36-hole leader. It won't be justified if the former University of Illinois standout can capture victory come Sunday.
A sensational seven-under 63 in Round 2 that featured zero bogeys has Guthrie on top by one at nine-under par.
The wunderkind posted a ridiculous 69.8 scoring average as a senior in high school according to his official website, and won two Big Ten championships for the Illini.
As it turns out, that was only the beginning. The Web.com Tour was next as Guthrie turned pro, and he posted four top-10 finishes in his first five starts. That included his first victory at the Albertsons Boise Open, which he backed up with a victory the very next week at the WNB Golf Classic.
He edged out heavily hyped youngster Danny Lee and Cameron Percy by one shot in that one, holing a 12-footer for par on the 18th hole to come out on top (h/t ESPN).
Those types of steely nerves on the greens will be needed over the next two days. One thing working in Guthrie's advantage is that conditions are still rather damp, which lends itself to lower scoring. There is also a 30 percent chance of rain tomorrow night.
If he's nervous, Guthrie doesn't act the part—at least through social media:
Thanks for all the tweets! Fun day out there. Got it going, can't wait for the opportunity this weekend. #LetsGo— Luke Guthrie (@LukeGuth1) March 1, 2013
Handling the weekend pressure at a high-profile PGA event is a different animal than Guthrie has ever dealt with before, though. That's especially so with the renowned "Bear Trap" set by course designer Jack Nicklaus on the last four holes.
After a respectable even-par start through seven holes, Thompson heated up. Birdies at the eighth and ninth holes helped him gain momentum at the turn, and three birdies on the back side lifted him to eight-under thanks to a round of 65.
Amidst the chaos of Jim Furyk's snap hook, Lee Westwood's tree adventures and other nutty subplots at last year's U.S. Open, the 25-year-old was the clubhouse leader for a while on the final day. Webb Simpson edged him out with an exceptional up-and-down at the 72nd hole, though.
That tie for second and brief brush with golfing immortality didn't turn out to be a launching point for Thompson.
His 2013 campaign was off to a horrific start prior to the Honda Classic—three missed cuts and a tie for 78th at the Farmers Insurance Open. Clearly, Thompson is bouncing back in a big way.
Thompson remarked after the round that the course was playing similar to a U.S. Open venue, which bodes well for him in the context of his breakout 2012 showing.
There is no doubt about Thompson's ability to putt—that is what got him into contention at Olympic Club. Thompson is not a very long or accurate player off the tee, which frequently puts him out of position to score well.
Thanks to hitting 11 fairways and 14-of-18 greens in regulation on Friday, Thompson displayed how dangerous he can be when his swing is on.
The question is: can he keep that type of ball-striking up?
Doug LaBelle II
A fellow Web.com graduate along with Guthrie, it has been a bit less of a direct path to success for LaBelle. He is not a PGA Tour rookie like many of his classmates, and is a journeyman who has never let his dream die.
An alum of various professional tours, the veteran sneaked just inside the top-25 of the Web.com money list at No. 24 to get back to golf's most-renowned circuit.
LaBelle didn't give up after the three-consecutive early birdies that generated momentum were immediately countered by a double-bogey at the tricky par-four sixth hole. He wound up with a respectable round of 68 despite hitting just 11 greens.
At 38 years old and only three shots off the lead at six-under, this is an opportunity LaBelle has been aching for.
His first start as a full-timer on Tour occurred at the 2007 Sony Open, where he finished in a tie for fourth. Unfortunately, it would wind up being his best finish by far.
Tons of missed cuts and poor finishes forced LaBelle to qualifying school, where he couldn't retain his card. Certain exemptions allowed him to play on the Tour in 2008, but after a solid tie for 10th in Hawaii, he fared no better.
At one point in the 2008 season, LaBelle missed eight of 10 cuts and finishing 81st and tied for 51st in the other events.
Although he may not be a household name, it's easy to cheer for LaBelle.