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 a three-shot lead in Friday’s weather-hit 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 to sit 10 strokes off the pace, 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 popular PGA Tour event hosted by Jack Nicklaus with a nine-under total of 135.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Haas told reporters after a round which included five birdies, an eagle at the par-five fifth and two bogeys to finish three ahead of compatriot Matt Kuchar (70).
“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.
“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.”
Swede Robert Karlsson was at four under after shooting a 71, with Americans Pat Perez (69), Hunter Mahan (68) and Australian Matt Jones (72) a further stroke back.
Play was suspended for the day at 7:07 p.m. EDT due to the threat of lightning, after two previous weather delays which totaled just under two hours.
Forty-two players were still out on the course and will have to complete the second round on Saturday morning, resuming at 7:30 a.m.
Among those were overnight leader Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, after 15 holes, and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, after 14, who were both at six under for the tournament.
Haas, who had missed the cut on his previous two starts before spending time with his wife at home following the May 13 birth of their son William, had bitter-sweet feelings over his bogey at the last.
“Obviously disappointing but it was probably my best iron shot of the day,” the four-times PGA Tour winner 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.
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, two shots 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.”
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.”
The cut was projected to fall at three-over 147 with U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, three-times major winner Vijay Singh and 14-year-old Chinese Guan Tianlang among those likely to miss out.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue