Timing’s right for Gooch at Rolex

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – A little over a month ago, Talor Gooch finished 8 under at the Thunderbird International Junior and tied for seventh. He was bewildered.

“It was weird,” he said.

Daniel Lee ran away with the title that week, eventually finishing at 18 under and breaking several scoring records in the process.

This week at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, Gooch is 7 under through two rounds and right where he should be: leading the golf tournament.

“My main goal since last year has been to win an invitational,” said Gooch. “I’ve never been in this position before.”

Gooch followed a first-round 68 with a 3-under 69 Thursday at Dalhousie Golf Club that included a double-bogey 7 on his 16th hole. He birdied his last hole to lengthen his lead to two shots over Gavin Hall.

Gooch’s lone victory came at the 2008 Aldila Junior at Oak Tree in his home state of Oklahoma. The T-7 at Thunderbird – which included a double eagle from 208 yards with a 5-iron in the final round – was by far his best AJGA finish this year. He had a T-37 at the HP Boys Championship and a T-51 at FootJoy.

“I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work, and it’s starting to pay off,” said Gooch, who has placed extra emphasis on the fundamentals.

Along with Hall, T.J. Vogel, No. 12 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, is also chasing Gooch. Vogel is playing in his final AJGA event and desperately wants to leave with the trophy.

Gooch knows his chasers will provide a daunting challenge over the final two rounds.

“I have enough players on my hands to worry about anything else,” he said, pointing at a range packed with players.

But for Gooch – who made the nine-hour drive from Midwest City, Okla., to Dalhousie Golf Club with his dad, Ron – the thought of winning a Rolex title is enough to drive him in the final two rounds.

“It would be a lot of sweat and hard work paying off.”

• • •

Victoria Tanco has some company atop the leaderboard.

Tanco opened up a three-shot lead in the first round, but a steady even-par 72 Thursday wasn’t enough to fend off the host of challengers.

Nicole Zhang shot 70 and is just one back of Tanco at 5-under 139.

Also threatening Tanco is top-ranked Alexis Thompson, who lurks three shot back. Thompson was in prime position to overtake Tanco, but bogeyed her final two holes for a 2-under 70.

Karen Chung, who lost to Thompson in the finals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior last year, shot 68 for the best round of the day. She’s in a four-way tie for fourth, one shot behind Thompson.

Defending champion Jennifer Johnson is tied for eighth at 1-over 145.

• • •

NOTABLES WHO MISSED THE CUT (3-over 147):

Tom Lovelady, who finished second at FootJoy, made a triple-bogey 7 on his final hole to miss the cut by two shots. He went 71-78.

Curtis Thompson, a winner at the Verizon Junior Heritage and Laredo Energy Junior – alongside his sister, Alexis, earlier this year – also went 71-78. He eagled his ninth hole in the second round.

Patrick Winther, last year’s Polo Junior champ and a winner at the HP Boys Championship this year, shot 81-77.

Erynne Lee, a semifinalist at the U.S. Women’s Am last year, shot 75-77 to miss the cut by two shots. She bogeyed two of her last three holes.

Kristen Park, the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior champ, shot 78-76 to miss by four.

Simin Feng, winner at the Annika Invitational earlier this year, shot 82 in the second round to miss by six. She was 6 over after four holes.

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