HOUSTON: Bryce Molder birdied four of the last seven holes en route to a six-under 66 on Friday, seizing a one-stroke lead at 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 No 4 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. 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, has won three straight starts on Champions Tour.
The organisers lured big names to the event by doing their best to simulate 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 he drained a 33-foot putt. He 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.
US tour rookies Percy and Prugh 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.