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64 lifts Garcia to BMW lead; McIlroy chases

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – After overnight rain softened the course, Cherry Hills looked ripe for low scoring in the second round of the BMW Championship.

“You could attack this golf course,” said Ryan Palmer, one of the players who did just that.

He and Sergio Garcia, the 36-hole leader at 8-under 132, both shot 64 but it wasn’t easy by any stretch. Each benefited from holing out for eagle on the par-4 seventh hole. On a crisp, overcast day, a swirling wind kept players on their toes. The field scoring average fell from 71.1 in round one to 70.1 in round two.

“Cherry Hills is a blast,” Palmer said. “It’s got that old-school feeling.”

Here are 5 Things you need to know from the second round at the BMW Championship…

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1. SERGIO SURGES: Sergio Garcia’s decision to skip the Deutsche Bank Championship last week is paying dividends.

“I know myself after 15 years of running around,” he said.

Garcia spent his break in New York’s Hamptons, frolicking at the beach and playing casual rounds of golf with his girlfriend at National Golf Links and Sebonack Golf Club. Not a bad week off, indeed.

“We just had a good time,” he said.

A freshened Garcia rode a hot putter to the lead in the second round. Using the claw grip, he took just 21 putts, the longest a 46-foot birdie putt at the second.

About the only thing that went wrong for Garcia was a popping in his left ear that began bothering him on the sixth green.

“It was like a beeping sound into my ear and then it kind of popped,” he said. “Obviously, it helped because then I made a 2 on the next.”

That was a reference to his eagle at the seventh, where Garcia holed a lob wedge from 126 yards. He made bogey at the par-3 eighth hole for the second straight day, the only hole he’s bogeyed this week.

Birdies at Nos. 11, 13 and 16 propelled him into the lead. Garcia was fortunate to escape with a par at the par-5 17th after knocking a 4-iron from 256 yards into the water. He came over the top and pulled it badly, but dropped at 72 yards and stopped his pitch next to the hole. Garcia drained a 13-footer at the last to grab sole possession of the lead.

“It’s only Friday,” Garcia said. “But, it’s obviously nice.”

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2. PALMER’S SIZZLING 64: Apparently Cherry Hills loves a Palmer by any name. This is the site of Arnold Palmer’s famous come-from-behind victory at the 1960 U.S. Open. This week, Ryan Palmer is threatening to add his name to the BMW Championship trophy. Early in the round, Ryan Palmer turned to his caddie, James Edmonston, and said, “Someone’s going to shoot low out here. Might as well be us.”

Palmer holed a 46-yard lob shot for an eagle at the seventh hole en route to a 6-under 64. Palmer, who last year had finished No. 71 on the FedEx Cup money list to narrowly miss playing in the 70-man BMW field, is seeking to cap off his most consistent season with a victory (career-best six top-10 finishes). He has only made it to the Tour Championship once in the past 10 years.

“That’s the goal now,” he said. “I know where I stand, there’s no doubt.” Having started the week 37th in FedEx Cup points, he’s projected to end the week 30th at this rate.

Randy Smith, Palmer’s coach for the better part of eight years, stuck around to watch him play. “He told me how good my tempo was. We didn’t really have to work on anything,” Palmer said.

Palmer, who birdied four of the final six holes, didn’t even think his hole-out for eagle was his best shot of the day. That came at 18. After driving it right and receiving a free drop, he had 190 yards to the hole from a hard-pan lie. He struck a 6-iron perfectly to 7 feet and rolled in the putt.

“It was a great shot, one of the best I’ve hit in a while,” he said.

As Smith said his goodbyes, his advice was simple: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

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3. RORY STALKS SERGIO AGAIN: Rory McIlroy shot his second consecutive round of 3-under 67, only this one ended on a better note.

“It’s amazing what a different finish to a round can do,” he said. “I was kind of stuck in neutral for most of the day. And to birdie three of the last four was a really nice way to finish.”

McIlroy made an early birdie at the second, but gave it back with a bogey at the fifth. He strung together nine straight pars in a row, which included several key par saves. When asked the shot he was proudest of during the round, McIlroy named the 5-footer he faced at the 10th. Staring at bogey, he made the putt – another potentially lost shot cleanly erased.

“That kept the momentum going,” he said. “I hadn’t really made anything.”

That soon changed. McIlroy rolled in birdie putts of 27 feet at the 15th and 34 feet at the 16th. He made a routine 2-putt birdie at the par-5 17th. All told, he made 103 feet of putts. Trailing by two, McIlroy likes his chances heading into the weekend.

“I’m trying to chase down Sergio again,” he said. “I did it at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (in August) and hopefully I can set up another good battle on Sunday.”

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4. HORSCHEL IS HOT: Billy Horschel picked a good time for his putter to warm up. His caddie, Micah Fugitt, said it simply: “He’s making everything.” It sure seemed that way after Horschel poured in a 41-foot birdie putt at No. 18 as he made the turn, en route to a 4-under 66.

The stats back up Fugitt’s claim. In round two, Horschel was a field-best +4.597 in the strokes gained putting category, nearly a stroke better than No. 2. Horschel leads the strokes gained putting statistic at the BMW Championship through two rounds by nearly two strokes (+6.229), a vast improvement over his season-long rank of No. 100.

“Right now, I’m seeing a very good line,” Horschel said. “When I get it going, I can keep it going.”

Horschel shared second place at the Deutsche Bank Championship to catapult from 82nd into 20th place in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and now he’s looking for more.

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5. SHORT SHOTS: Jason Day withdrew after eight holes due to a strained lower back. He issued a statement that he will seek treatment on his back, “and hopefully (will) be ready for the Tour Championship.” … Bubba Watson flew the cross bunkers at No. 17 with a 364-yard tee shot, ripped 9-iron from 195 yards to inside 5 feet and made eagle. He shot 66 to climb to a share of fifth place at 4-under 136. … Hideki Matsuyama, who entered the week at No. 30, is projected to be No. 21 in the FedEx Cup standings after a 67 in the second round. … Graham DeLaet (68-68-T5) shares the lead for the most birdies (11) with Jordan Spieth. DeLaet on making a bid for the Tour Championship: “I know that I need a good finish. I kind of shot myself out of it the last couple of weeks.” … Phil Mickelson likely shot himself out of the tournament with a 6-over 76.

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