Daniel Berger sets the tone for his hometown Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Not all golfers enjoy playing from home. There are often tickets to procure, guests to entertain, and many other distractions that can separate a player from their normal tournament routine.

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You won’t hear Daniel Berger complain. Berger loves every second spent playing close to home. On Thursday morning, he was riding around his neighborhood on his bike before his afternoon departure time. Its journey to the course takes 15 minutes by car. And, of course, there’s the biggest bonus of all: the home cooking his mom provides.

Daniel is not a model. When asked to name his mother’s favorite dish, he shrugs and replies, “Everything.” Nadia Berger’s son, meanwhile, has been busy serving up birdies for two days of the Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion Course. There were 11 in all, including six against a bogey early Friday as he took the lead in his hometown PGA TOUR stoppage.

Berger’s 65-65 on the par-70 champion was a sight to behold. When fellow countryman Gary Woodland stood over a putt for a birdie on their morning 17th hole, he was 2 under and tied for 11th. And eight strokes behind Berger, who played on offense as many played defense against a penalty-champion run at PGA National.

Comparing the two 65s as if they were paintings in a gallery, he said there was perhaps more quality in Friday’s version, when he teeed off on the back nine , picked up the momentum early and never really let go. Whenever he seemed to be even slightly out of shape – like the 12 par 4, where he went from one bunker to another with his first two shots – there was recovery and hope. On the 12th, he came in as a normal 12-foot save. Onwards and upwards from there.

“Just one of those days where I kept the momentum going,” said Berger, 28, a four-time PGA TOUR winner who was a Honda runner-up as a PGA TOUR rookie in 2015. He finished with 64, then lost a two-hole playoff to veteran Padraig Harrington. Berger was tied for fourth two years ago, and last year missed the tournament with a rib injury. It destroyed him not to be here, competing on a course he knows so well.

Berger’s best attribute on 36 holes this week? Patience.

“I hit a lot of quality shots, even if they didn’t seem like they were 5 feet from the hole or 10 feet from the hole,” he said. “I know they’re so tough, hitting him from 20 feet is a good shot.

“And that’s the challenge of this golf course is that the pins are in, the greens are firm, the wind is up, so you have to be really at the point where you’re going to miss.”

Berger didn’t miss very often. He wondered aloud if 10 cents might not be a winning score late Sunday if the wind blew a little stronger this weekend, the greens got a little firmer and the Bear Trap reared its head. Berger says PGA National, the way it’s set up, feels like some kind of major test.

“You look at the No. 5 hole (measuring 195 yards on Friday), the pin is four (pitch) to the left and the wind is on the left… I mean it’s almost impossible to hit it close. So sometimes a 30 foot right from the flag is a good shot. And so that’s what I’m looking forward to this weekend, where that’s going to be a big part of the game plan.

That’s exactly how Berger approached the par-3 seventh, which was his 16th hole of the day. The flag was hidden to the right, behind an intimidating bunker, and Berger, who likes to move the ball left to right, played smart left, his ball rolling to the back of the green. He was 38 feet from the hole and walking at full stride when he took a final swing to the right and fell. Birdy.

Brooks Koepka, four-time major champion and the region’s most famous golfer, has known Berger forever. They both competed in events in the area and both played at Florida State, where Berger was a bit behind the older Koepka.

“He is fiery. I like it,” is how Koepka described his former Ryder Cup teammate last fall. “I think he’s maybe not outside, not showing it, but maybe more behind closed doors and knowing him personally, he’s definitely very competitive. He’s funny. And I like just the fact that he’s always ready to go It doesn’t matter, ping pong, chess, I mean, it doesn’t matter He’s ready to go and he’s ready to kick your ass, which I think is awesome.

For two days at Honda, no one played harder, was more dominant or kicked more ass. The best part for Berger? An excellent home-cooked meal awaits you just 15 minutes away. No reservation required.

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