PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic (AP)Matt Wallace of England birdied his last three holes Friday for a 6-under 66, giving him a one-shot lead going into the weekend in the Corales Puntacana Championship.
Wallace had missed six out of seven cuts on the PGA Tour until he was in the mix last week in the Valspar Championship. He tied for seventh, and it looks as though he has carried some of that momentum to the Dominican Republic.
He had a one-shot lead over Sam Stevens and Wyndham Clark, who each had a 65 on a breezy day that wasn’t quite as strong as the opening round. Either way, Wallace appears to have it figured out.
“Lovely place,” said Wallace, a three-time winner on the European Tour. “The wind is very consistent, so it’s quite easy in that sense that you know where the wind is, and I’m playing some good stuff. I’m striking it nice off the tee, so I’m giving myself quite a few chances.”
This is the second time Wallace has at least a share of the 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour. He was part of a three-way tie at windy Quail Hollow two years ago in the Wells Fargo Championship, where he wound up in a tie for sixth.
Wallace was at 11-under 133.
Brice Garnett, who won at Puntacana in 2018, was making his way toward the top by sticking to his formula of making birdie on the par 5s. He got three of them, but his round stalled and he dropped a shot coming in for a 70.
He was part of a group at 8-under 136 that included Akshay Bhatia, the 21-year-old who turned pro out of high school. Bhatia was a runner-up in another opposite-field event at Puerto Rico three weeks ago that gave him special temporary membership on tour.
That means he’s entitled to unlimited exemptions, though he would have to win to take immediate membership. He played Friday as though that might not be too far away.
Bhatia went out in 29 with a bogey on his card – he had six birdies and an eagle – and he was 9 under for his round through 12 holes. But he missed the fairway on the 13th that led to bogey, failed to birdie the par-5 14th and had to settle for a 63.
“You just never know with this game,” Bhatia said. ”Yesterday I didn’t make any putts, I had 34 putts, I hit it really solid. … But today I made a lot more putts and I hit it just as good as I did yesterday. Hopefully keep it up and it will be exciting the next couple days.”
He didn’t realize he was in the tournament until late and didn’t see the Corales golf course until Wednesday, playing about six or seven holes.
Adding to the fun was playing with MJ Daffue of South Africa, who had a hole-in-one on the 17th hole and was at 5-under 139.
The cut came at even-par 144. Among those still in the mix is Erik Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient who received a sponsor exemption. He had a 68 and was six behind.
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