Henley shoots 69, in the mix at Humana

Russell Henley watches his tee shot on the second hole during the second round of the Humana Challenge golf tournament on the Palmer Private course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. Friday, Jan. 18, 2013.

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – Hard to believe, but Russell Henley’s 69 Friday at the Humana Challenge was the highest score in his rookie PGA Tour season.

His scoring average in six rounds as a PGA Tour member? 64.8 strokes per round.

“It’s a credit to how he was playing at the end of the year,” playing competitor Bo Van Pelt said. “When you’re rolling the ball like that, the hole seems really big and life seems pretty good.”

Life is good indeed for the PGA Tour rookie, who won last week's Sony Open in his first start as a Tour member. He’s at 11-under 133 (64-69), three shots behind co-leaders Roberto Castro and rookie James Hahn. Henley hit 13 greens and had 29 putts Friday. He dropped down the leaderboard despite keeping his sub-70 streak intact, but remained in contention. That’s all one can hope for on those days when the swing just doesn’t feel right.

“I didn’t play that well today,” Henley said. “If it weren’t for my putter, I probably would’ve shot 70-something. Your swing isn’t going to be perfect every day. To get away with a 69, I’m a little bit relieved.”

Henley made three bogeys Friday, as well as four birdies and an eagle, at the par-5 fifth hole after hitting hybrid from about 250 yards to 10 feet. Birdie putts from inside 5 feet on Nos. 16 and 18 helped Henley salvage his 69. He also holed a 23-foot putt to save par on the short par-3 17th hole after pulling his tee shot into the water.

Castro and Hahn are seeking their first PGA Tour victories. Henley is trying to become the first player to win in his first two PGA Tour starts as a member. He’ll play La Quinta Country Club on Saturday as he continues that quest. A second consecutive victory could raise Henley as high as 32nd in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to do that,” Henley said of winning. “I’ve been enjoying golf a lot more this offseason by not worrying so much about pulling off a shot or making a perfect decision. Golf is a lot easier, and so is life, when you ignore those expectations.”

Henley said he plans to sit out next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, then will take his schedule “one week at a time.” He’s a virtual lock to earn a start at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and WGC-Cadillac Championship. He’s already in the Masters, WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship, as well as all of the PGA Tour’s invitational events.

He said he’ll likely use an off week in February to visit Augusta National and prepare for his first Masters start. It won’t be the first time he’s been on the hallowed grounds, though. He played there once a year as a member of the University of Georgia golf team.

“A lot of guys are probably thinking about making cuts just so they can get through the reshuffle,” Henley said about his fellow Web.com Tour and Q-School graduates. “That’s not a very fun spot. I want to be playing golf because it’s fun to play and not because I want to get through the reshuffle. I’m very thankful to have gotten off to a good start.”

Henley said he played Friday with Joan Adams, the mother of good friends in Georgia, on his mind. Adams is in the hospital this week; he received a photo Friday morning of her watching the Humana telecast on television from the hospital.

“She’s recovering,” Henley said. “She’s had a long battle. She’s an inspiration for me. She’s the sweetest lady in the world and just someone I look up to a lot."

Henley didn’t have his best stuff Friday, but he still has the opportunity to give her something special to watch this weekend.

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