34-year old Spaniard Sergio Garcia served notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with at next week’s Masters, as he surged to the lead with a 7-under 65 on the second day of the Shell Houston Open. Garcia’s scorecard was bogey-free with five birdies and an eagle and was good enough for a one-shot lead at 12 under par at the Country Club of Houston golf course.
A good showing this week is not the only reason Garcia should be in consideration as a contender for the Masters this year. He has been on a positive run ever since last August. Since The Barclay’s tournament, Sergio has finished in the top-20 in every event he has played. If he wins this week, it will be his third win in his last seven starts worldwide. In Friday’s round he missed only one fairway, and through the first two rounds has only 51 putts. He credits his improvement in putting to his switch to the “claw” grip. Since adapting the new style two years ago, he has moved from 144 to eighth in putting statistics.
Alone in second place after two rounds is Matt Kuchar who had a 67 to go with a 66 on Thursday. Kuchar would have tied for the lead except for a bogey five on 18, his ninth hole of the day. That was the only bogey on his card for the day, along with six birdies.
After Kuchar there is a three-shot gap to third place where four players are tied at eight under par 136. That group includes Matt Jones, Shawn Stefani, Cameron Tringale and Jimmy Walker. At seven under par and tied for seventh are Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis. Stricker, making one of his few appearances outside of the majors, had a 69 on Friday with Curtis shooting 70.
Phil Mickelson is another of the players within reach of leader Sergio Garcia in the Shell Houston Open, sitting six shots back as they head for the weekend. Mickelson’s scorecard was the usual mix of squares and circles, making four birdies and two bogeys on his way to a two under par 70. With his 68 on Thursday, he is at six under for the tournament and tied for ninth with Jason Gore.
It was a tough day for the two first-round co-leaders Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman. Haas had consecutive bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes on his way to a two-over par 74 to fall back to five under par. Hoffman ballooned to a 76 on Friday, bogeying three of his first four holes and adding a double-bogey later in the round. He is at three under for the tournament. Some of the bigger names who missed the cut and will not be playing on the weekend include Padraig Harrington, Steven Bowditch, Charles Howell III and Ian Poulter. Dustin Johnson, one of those being mentioned as a favorite in next week’s Masters Tournament, withdrew from this week’s event after shooting 80 in the first round on Thursday.
It should be an interesting weekend at the Shell Houston Open for leader Sergio Garcia and the rest of the field. Because of the threat of bad weather in the area, tee times have been moved up by four hours for the third round. There is a 70 percent chance of showers on Saturday and an 80 percent chance of rain for the final round on Sunday.
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Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky