Houston: Bryce Molder birdied four of the last seven holes en route to a six-under par 66, seizing a one-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Houston Open.
Molder had a nine-under total of 135, one shot in front of first-round co-leader Cameron Percy of Australia and fellow US tour rookie Alex Prugh. Percy carded a 69 and Prugh posted a 66.
England’s world number four Lee Westwood shot a 68 and headed a group on 137 that also included Anthony Kim (69), Joe Ogilvie (67) and Kevin Stadler (70).
South African Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson made the cut, but were far off the pace after failing to break par in the second round of the event which is the last tuneup for next week’s Masters at Augusta National.
Els carded a 74 and Couples a 73 to stand at even par through 36 holes.
Mickelson carded a 76 on another blustery day on the Tournament Course at Redstone and was one-over.
Els is seeking his third victory in as many starts while Couples, 50, has won three straight starts on the Champions Tour.
Houston Open organizers lured big names to the event by doing their best to simulat Masters conditions.
But the warm-up fell short for several - with Australian Geof Ogilvy and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy among those missing the cut.
Lucas Glover’s second-round 68 included the first hole-in-one in the course’s five-year tour history. Glover hit a six-iron on the 199-yard 16th hole.
Molder, who is without a victory in 88 career starts, made short birdie putts on 12 and 13, then chipped in on the par-five 15th.
He took the outright lead on 17 when hdrained a 33-foot putt.
The 31-year-old has never played in the Masters, and said the possibility of playing his way into the year’s first major was on his mind along with the thought of a possible first win.
“Once you’re out there and over the ball, you’re not really thinking, ‘Well, maybe this is what could or could not get me in next week,’” Molder said. “If you ask me that Sunday afternoon and I’ve got a two-shot lead walking down the last hole, maybe so.
“But I haven’t won on the PGA Tour. When I win out here, first and foremost, it’s going to be exciting.”
Percy and Prugh, both US tour rookies, are in search of their first victories.
Percy has the distinction of being the last man to play a competitive round with Tiger Woods. He was paired with Woods on the final day of the Australian Masters on November 15, which Woods won before a sex scandal exploded around him.
“All my friends think they’re going to win a trivia contest in about 10 years or something,” Percy said.
Percy got into the Houston field as an alternate, and got the call on Monday as he was preparing to play a qualifier.
Mickelson dropped out of contention with a strange triple bogey on the 10th, where he hooked his tee shot to the base of a bush, then went to a right-handed stance to punch it out.
A second ball popped out when Mickelson swung, and the ball he was playing bounced off his leg leading to a two-shot penalty.
He pitched his next shot to 18 feet and two-putted for a seven.