(Reuters) - American journeyman Tom Gillis rocketed into the early clubhouse lead in Friday’s second round of the Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas, where China’s 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was certain to miss the cut.
Gillis, bidding for his first PGA Tour title after spending much of his golfing career competing on the lower tier circuits, fired a sparkling seven-under-par 63 on a hot and humid day at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas.
With preferred lies again in operation on a layout saturated by rain earlier in the week, Gillis piled up eight birdies, including five in his first nine holes, and a lone bogey to post an eight-under total of 132.
Compatriot John Huh was alone at seven under after carding a 64 with Canadian Stephen Ames (68) and Erik Compton (63) a further two strokes back.
Former champion Keegan Bradley, who charged into a three-shot lead overnight after opening with a blistering course record 60, was among the day’s late starters.
Gillis, whose best PGA Tour finish was a tie for second at last year’s Honda Classic, was delighted with his form at the TPC Four Seasons Resort after missing the cut in his previous five starts on the U.S. circuit.
“I’m pleased obviously,” the 44-year-old told Golf Channel after a red-hot round tarnished slightly by a three-putt bogey on his final hole, the par-four ninth. “I made a bunch of putts.
“At the last I hit it pretty close, to about eight feet or nine feet so I was a little disappointed with that but overall it was good, really good.
“I just gave it a little too much speed,” Gillis said of his first putt on the ninth green. “I probably lost concentration on the comebacker, so I guess that happens.”
Asked to assess the playing conditions on Friday morning after contending with strengthening winds on Thursday afternoon for his opening 69, Gillis replied: “It was a little easier.
“The wind was down and I was hoping that we would get a fair shot like they had yesterday morning, just to see what it would be like. It definitely, I thought, played a little bit easier than in the afternoon.”
Huh, the PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2012 after winning his maiden title at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, was happy to be back in contention after struggling for much of this season.
“I am really excited about the weekend,” Huh said after mixing eight birdies with two bogeys. “I haven’t really been able to be in this position for a while so I am trying to enjoy myself out there and make some putts.”
While Gillis and Huh took advantage of the preferred lies on a rain-softened layout, Chinese sensation Guan was destined to make an early exit from the tournament after making the cut in his first two PGA Tour starts.
Guan, who made his second consecutive cut on the U.S. circuit at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last month, followed his opening 70 with a 77 to finish well outside the projected cutline of level-par 140.
Competing this week on a sponsor’s exemption, Guan carded five bogeys, two birdies and two double-bogeys, the last of them coming on his final hole, the ninth, where his tee shot ended up in water.
The Chinese teenager has been one of the biggest talking points in golf since he became the youngest player to make the cut in a major championship at the Masters five weeks ago.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue