HUMBLE, Texas (AP) — Bryce Molder took away valuable lessons playing with Brian Gay in the final pairing of last year’s St. Jude Classic.
Molder finished five strokes behind Gay in second place, his best finish on the PGA Tour. Molder is still winless in 88 career starts, but as long as he keeps giving himself chances, he knows his turn will come.
The 31-year-old Molder birdied four of the last seven holes on Friday for a 6-under 66 and a one-stroke lead at the Houston Open, the final event before the Masters next week at Augusta National. He had a 9-under 135 total on Redstone’s Tournament Course.
Molder had breakthrough season in 2009, with three top-10 finishes, and he has three more top 10s already this year. Molder has focused on playing within himself since watching Gay closely in Memphis last summer.
“He knows what he does well, and he did that,” Molder said. “And that’s the biggest difference in the last two or three years for me. To kind of keep improving is to really grab hold of what am I good at.”
Molder made short birdie putts on 12 and 13, then chipped in on the par-5 15th. He rolled in a 33-foot putt on 17 to take the outright lead, again putting himself in position to chase that elusive first title.
“The more recent it’s been, the more comfortable you are,” Molder said. “When you’re nervous, it’s a good thing. Dealing with playing and expectations and trying to get committed out there and all these kinds of things – you just have to be there to learn it and go through it. It’s a process.”
First-round co-leader Cameron Percy (69) and fellow PGA Tour rookie Alex Prugh (66) were tied for second, and Lee Westwood (68), Anthony Kim (69), Joe Ogilvie (67) and Kevin Stadler (70) were 7 under after another windy day.
Percy and Prugh, like Molder, are also seeking their first wins.
The most notable distinction of Percy’s career so far is that he’s 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 Nov. 15.
“All my friends think they’re going to win a trivia contest in about 10 years or something,” Percy said.
Percy is fortunate to even be playing in Houston. He was the first alternate on Monday and entered in a qualifier at nearby Cypresswood, thinking he was going to have to play his way in. He was standing on the first tee on when got a phone message saying that he was in the field.
Prugh withstood a double bogey on No. 3 to shoot a 66, the lowest score of the tournament later matched by Molder. Prugh regrouped on the long walk between Nos. 3 and 4, then sank a 16-foot birdie putt to get going.
“I rolled that one in, and right there, that put my round around a little bit,” Prugh said.
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. Els (74) and Couples (73) were even par, and Mickelson (76) was 1 over.
Els is trying to win his third straight start and the 50-year-old Couples is warming up for the Masters after three consecutive wins on the Champions Tour.
Mickelson fell out of contention when he took a bizarre triple bogey on No. 10. He hooked his tee shot to the base of a bush, then went to a right-handed stance to punch it out.
A second ball popped out when Mickelson swung, and the ball he was playing ricocheted off his leg, a two-stroke penalty. He pitched his next shot to 18 feet and two-putted for a 7.
Couples was 2 under before driving into the fairway bunker on No. 18 and taking a bogey. Els bogeyed three of his last six holes.
Lucas Glover’s second-round 68 included the first hole-in-one in the course’s five-year tour history. Glover used a 6-iron on the 199-yard 16th hole for the first ace in the Houston Open since 2005. He was 3 under.