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CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colorado (Reuters) - Spain’s Sergio Garcia fired an impressive six-under-par 64 to take the halfway lead at the BMW Championship on Friday, with world number one Rory McIlroy only two off the pace after another 67.
Garcia holed out for an eagle from 126 yards, hit five birdies and a lone bogey to move to eight-under par for the tournament, leaving him one clear of American Ryan Palmer in the Tour's penultimate playoff event.
Palmer holds outright second at seven-under after matching Garcia’s 64, while McIlroy's second successive 67 put him tied third with American Billy Horschel (66) at six-under.
Garcia, looking for his first win on the PGA Tour this term, started relatively slowly with just one birdie in the opening six holes before he kick-started his round by holing out from the fairway for eagle on the par four seventh.
While he gave a shot back with bogey on the eighth, the world number four produced four birdies on the back nine, and an impressive par save after finding water, to ensure he led going into the weekend.
Garcia won the Qatar Masters on the European Tour in January but has been unable to close out a win despite several close calls.
He has eight top 10 finishes since February on the US tour, including three runner-ups and two thirds.
"It's nice to be able to put yourself up there as often as possible, but we still have two days to go and I need to play better than I did the last two days,” Garcia said.
"I didn't play badly, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like I was playing better at the British Open and at (WGC) Bridgestone so hopefully I'll be able to do that."
Palmer, who led for periods throughout the recent PGA Championship won by McIlroy, also holed out for an eagle on the seventh as part of his 64.
Palmer watched with joy as his 46 yard pitch from the rough found the putting surface and rolled on in to the cup.
While Garcia is almost through to the 30-man tour championship finale where the FedExCup and $10 million bonus pool go on the line, Palmer needs a high finish in Colorado to earn a spot in Atlanta.
"I know where I stand, there’s no doubt,” Palmer said.
"I know it is a top 12 or better for me but that is the way it is. You know what you have got to do so I had plenty of confidence coming into the week.
"It is just a matter of me taking care of it and just playing my game and let that all hopefully take care of itself."
McIlroy started his second round in booming fashion by driving the green at the par four first to leave himself a 24-foot putt for eagle only to disappointingly three-putt.
The Northern Irishman traded a birdie and bogey over his next four holes before turning an average round into a great one by recording three consecutive birdies from the 15th to put himself in the mix for another title.
"I feel much better coming off the golf course because I birdied three of the last four holes. I sort of struggled to get anything going today. It was a little trickier conditions,” McIlroy said.
"It's amazing what a different finish to a round can do. I stayed very patient out there. I tried not to get too frustrated, even though I was sort of stuck in neutral for most of the day."
World number six Australian Jason Day withdrew after nine holes with a back complaint, putting his place in the tour championship in doubt.
Editing by Patrick Johnston