DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Rejuvenated by the recent birth of his first child, American Bill Haas rebounded from successive missed cuts on the PGA Tour to grab an early two-shot lead in Friday’s second round at the Memorial Tournament.
While five-times champion and last year’s winner Tiger Woods battled to a two-over-par 74 in gusting winds at Muirfield Village Golf Club, Haas putted superbly on lightning-fast greens to fire a five-under-par 67.
Though Haas bogeyed his final hole, the par-four 18th, after hitting his approach over the back of the green, he was delighted to take control of the PGA Tour event hosted by Jack Nicklaus with a nine-under total of 135.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Haas told reporters after mixing five birdies with an eagle at the par-five fifth and two bogeys to finish two shots ahead of compatriot Matt Kuchar (70).
Swede Robert Karlsson was at four under after shooting a 71, with Americans Pat Perez (69) and Hunter Mahan (68) a further stroke back.
“I hit a couple of loose shots. On number 11, the wind was right-to-left and I hit a provisional, I thought it was out of bounds there,” said Haas.
“We got out there and it (his first tee shot) must have hit a tree and it was fine. I ended up making birdie. That was probably a three-shot swing there. A huge hole for me there.”
Haas, who clinched his fourth PGA Tour victory at the Northern Trust Open in February but has missed the cut on his last two starts on the circuit, had bitter-sweet feelings over his bogey at the last.
“Obviously disappointing but it was probably my best iron shot of the day,” he said of his approach on 18. “It carried a little farther than I wanted and stayed up over the green, which is really no good. I hit two nice quality shots on 18.”
Asked how the weather conditions on Friday morning had matched up to the strengthening winds he had to negotiate during his opening 68, Haas replied: ”It was pretty similar, actually.
”Maybe even a hair more difficult today, but those greens are lightning fast, I think that’s the biggest deal.
“With that kind of wind and that fast of greens, it’s very difficult to make putts, and I’ve just been fortunate to see a few go in,” added Haas, whose son William was born on May 13.
Woods, widely regarded as one of the best putters of all time, did not watch as many putts drop on Friday as he labored to a one-over total of 145, a shot inside the projected cutline.
“Tough conditions out there and I didn’t exactly play my best either,” said the American world number one who three-putted from just five feet to double-bogey the par-five 15th.
“It’s not that hard to make bogeys and doubles on this golf course. You miss it in the wrong spot, get the wrong gust, it’s tough. We had a few shots in our group that ended up in special interesting spots.”
Woods, who has triumphed four times in just seven starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, ended up with two birdies, two bogeys and a double on his card, but it was the putting he found most frustrating.
“They (putts) were moving all over the place,” the 37-year-old said after have to cope on the slick greens as winds gusted up to 25mph.
“It’s tough. You try and stay below the hole as best you can, but sometimes you have to get the ball on the green.”
Conditions were expected to become even tougher on Friday afternoon for the late starters, among them overnight leader Charl Schwartzel of South Africa who opened with a sizzling 65.
The cut was projected to fall at two-over 146 with U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, fellow U.S. Ryder Cup player Dustin Johnson and 14-year-old Chinese Guan Tianlang among those likely to miss out.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue