Sergio Garcia blazes trail in Texas after 65
Rory McIlroy only manages 71 to trail Spaniard by nine shots
Sergio Garcia of Spain watches his tee shot on the fifth hole during round two of the Shell Houston Open in Humble, Texas. Photograph: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy watches his shot on the eighth hole during round two of the Shell Houston Open in Humble, Texas. Photograph: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Spain’s Sergio Garcia warmed up for next week’s US Masters in style with a superb second round of 65 in the Shell Houston Open on Friday.
Garcia followed his opening 67 with five birdies and an eagle in a flawless display at the Golf Club of Houston, setting the clubhouse target at 12 under par.
Masters favourite Rory McIlroy had been “really happy” with his form from tee to green during an opening 70 and got off to a flying start on Friday with birdies on the 10th and 12th and picked up another shot at the first.
However, the 24-year-old then missed from three feet for par on the third and did well to drop just one shot on the sixth, scrambling a bogey five from a greenside bunker after taking a penalty drop following a wayward tee shot.
A round of 71 left McIlroy nine shots behind Garcia on three under par, but there was much worse news for fellow Ulster golfer Darren Clarke, who carded a second straight 75 to bow out of the tournament on six over.
Garcia also started on the back nine and picked up his first shot of the day from 12 feet on the 12th before a stunning approach from 280 yards on the par-five 13th finished just five feet from the hole to set up an eagle.
A long-range birdie on the 14th helped Garcia reach the turn in 32 and he then carded a hat-trick of birdies from the third to stretch his lead to four shots over Australian Matt Jones and American Cameron Tringale, who had both returned second successive 68s.
Garcia shared the lead at Augusta 12 months ago with an opening 66, the first time he had led a Major since the 2007 Open, when he was out in front for three days but eventually lost out in a play-off to Pádraig Harrington at Carnoustie.
The 33-year-old finished second in the USPGA Championship as a 19-year-old back in 1999 and has had 16 top-10 finishes in 61 Major appearances, but after coming 12th in the Masters in 2012 famously said: “I’m not good enough. In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
Speaking after his opening round last year, Garcia said: “It was one of those moments where you are a little frustrated. It probably came out wrong the way I said it.
“It doesn’t change that every week I tee it up and try to play my best golf and give myself a chance to win. It (Augusta) is not my most favourite place, but we try to enjoy it as much as we can each time we come here. Sometimes it comes out better than others. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.”
Harrington was among the later starters after opening with a three-under 69 and knowing that only a victory will earn him a place in the Masters field.