Sergio whips wild wind to share lead

Sergio Garcia has shrugged off strong winds to stay on track to his first PGA Tour title in three years.

Sergio Garcia shrugged off strong gusting winds to stay on track to his first PGA Tour title in three years in Friday’s second round of the Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas.

It made no difference that he played in the most difficult weather conditions of the day.

The 33-year-old Spaniard was near impeccable, both from tee to green and on the green itself where putting has been one of his Achilles heels for some time, shooting a four-under-par 66 for an 8-under 132 halfway total that secured him a tie at the top of the leaderboard with American Ryan Palmer.

Five Americans are queued up behind them heading into the weekend.

Tim Petrovic (66) and Scott Piercy (69) are three back at 5-under with compatriots Nick Watney (68), Joe Ogilvie (70) and Chad Collins (69) a further shot off the pace.

First-round leader Jeff Overton, who had opened with a flawless 64, fell back on Friday as he battled to a 74 that included bogeys on his last two holes. He is tied for 14th, some six shots off the pace.

Garcia, whose last PGA Tour victory came at the 2008 Players Championship, teed off in the afternoon by which time the winds had strengthened considerably.

He did drop a shot at the par-four third, but he gave nothing away after that and his chip-in for birdie from just off the green at the par-four 15th was as clinically superb as was his calm up and down from a bunker at the last.

It was no wonder he told the media afterwards: “I am very happy with this round.”

“I drove the ball great, which I’m very happy about. Just a little bit of a bad drive on the last, but we managed to make a great up and down for a good finish.”

Using his new claw grip in an attempt to improve his reliability on the greens, Garcia needed only 27 putts on greens that through the day became harder and faster as they were blasted by winds gusting up to 35 mph.

“I feel much more comfortable, I feel like I know what I’m doing,” said the Spaniard, who won the Byron Nelson Championship in 2004.

“I’ve been able to putt more consistently this year since I went to the claw grip.”

Local favourite Palmer, who had made only one cut in his seven previous starts on the PGA Tour this year, set the early clubhouse pace with a 67 after starting in the morning field.

The gusts intensified as the 34-year-old American reached the turn at the TPC Four Seasons Resort, but like Garcia, he was rock solid and safely negotiated the homeward nine in a level-par 35.

“I drilled the ball great today,” said Palmer who grew up in nearby Amarillo. “I’m not having that many long putts, and that just shows how solid I’m hitting the golf ball.

“The last five holes are playing tough, into the wind and uphill, so finishing in par was good. I love where I’m sitting. The course is getting firmer and faster and tougher, so there’s a fun weekend ahead.”

Outside the spot light which for much of the day was trained on the chief antagonists, the most impressive displays of the day most surely came from a 17-year-old American amateur, Jordan Spieth. Despite the nasty weather, he carded a 68 to move into joint 7th place on the eve of his graduation from high school.

At the other end of the scale, former major champions Mike Weir, Justin Leonard and Steve Elkington were among those who missed the cut.

The Top 10 Leaderboard
(USA unless stated, par 70):
132 Sergio Garcia (Spa) 66 66, Ryan Palmer 65 67
135 Tim Petrovic 69 66, Scott Piercy 66 69
136 Nick Watney 68 68, Chad Collins 67 69, Joe Ogilvie 66 70
137 Keegan Bradley 66 71, Chris Riley 66 71, Chris DiMarco 70 67, Ryuji Imada (Jpn) 69 68, Jordan Spieth 69 68, Josh Teater 66 71