Bud Cauley takes Cognizant lead in second start of comeback

League: Golf

Posted on: 02 Mar, 2024 at 01:06 AM

Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Bud Cauley made his sixth birdie of the day at the par-5 18th hole to take the outright lead at the Cognizant Classic when play was suspended due to darkness Friday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Cauley's bogey-free, 6-under 65 propelled him to 11-under 131 through two rounds at PGA National's Champion course. He was one shot ahead of Austin Eckroat and South African Garrick Higgo.

Ten players will finish their rounds Saturday morning, with the cut line projected at 2 under.

Cauley, a 33-year-old from Florida, is making just his second start on tour since he missed three-plus years due to an ongoing battle with injuries. He's playing on a major medical extension and entered the week ranked No. 1,258 in the world.

"I gave myself enough time to prepare at home before I started playing again," Cauley said. "Yeah, my expectation was to come out and compete, and I felt like my game was in a good spot. Saying it is one thing, doing it is another."

In 2018, a car accident left Cauley with six broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken left leg. He came back from those injuries but suffered complications in fall 2020, requiring multiple follow-up procedures on his chest wall.

"There were a lot of times where I thought that my career was over," Cauley said. "To be back here playing and playing well, it's nice. It just makes me that much more happy that I kept after it and didn't stop trying."

Higgo shot a 65 and Eckroat posted a 67 to form their tie for second. Higgo was briefly at 11 under after birdieing seven of his first 13 holes, but a late bogey dropped him back.

"This week I've been able to just play instead of -- I've kind of let go of the swing thoughts, which is where you want to be," Higgo said.

Though Higgo won on tour in 2021, Eckroat hasn't come close since tying for second at last year's AT&T Byron Nelson as a rookie. On Friday, he stayed bogey-free with four birdies.

"It's been a reasonable start to the season I feel like. Making cuts but nothing special," Eckroat said. "I knew the game was close and a good week was coming."

Taiwan's Kevin Yu (67) and Frenchman Victor Perez (66) are tied for fourth at 9 under. The group tied for sixth at 8 under includes Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (67), Ireland's Shane Lowry (67), Cameron Young (69) and last week's winner Jake Knapp (66).

Nick Dunlap, who won The American Express as an amateur in January and turned pro, made a hole-in-one at the par-3 seventh Friday -- four holes after making an eagle.

"I remember I was trying to hit a 175-yard shot," Dunlap said. "I loved a 7-iron for some reason, and (caddie Hunter Hamrick) convinced me to hit the 8. I don't know if you can hear it on the video, but I said right before, I'm like, ‘Hey, 175 gets there, right?' He's like, ‘Yep, it's perfect.' So all the credit goes to him on that one."

A string of bogeys meant Dunlap had to settle for a 70, but at 5 under he will safely make the cut.

Notable players expected to miss the cut include Ryder Cup participant Sepp Straka of Austria (even par), last week's runner-up Sami Valimaki of Finland (even), Sungjae Im of South Korea (1 over) and Gary Woodland (2 over).

--Field Level Media