Bhatia stretches lead to five strokes at PGA Texas Open

golf06 April 2024 04:37| © AFP

Akshay Bhatia birdied two of his last three holes and stretched his lead from three to five strokes after Friday's second round of the PGA Texas Open.

The 22-year-old American fired a two-under-par 70 to stand on 11-under 133 after 36 holes at TPC San Antonio.

Bhatia matched his career-low PGA round with a 63 on Thursday and struggled to follow up well but stayed well ahead of the pack.

"It was stressful, for sure, wasn't my best stuff," Bhatia said. "I struggled a lot off the tee, golf swing didn't feel great with any of the longer stuff, but iron play was still phenomenal, wedges were good, made some nice putts.

"I'm reading the greens really good, so I understand when I'm missing putts why that's happening, so it's good, understanding where I need to improve the next couple days."

Americans Brendon Todd, Russell Henley and Denny McCarthy shared second on 138.

World No 2 Rory McIlroy, in his final tuneup for next week's Masters, fired a 70 to stand fifth on 139. McIlroy can complete a career grand slam with a victory next week at Augusta National.

"I just stayed patient and tried to play pretty smart golf," McIlroy said. "Just trying to keep the ball in play off the tee, trying to give yourself some good looks."

Bhatia captured his first PGA title last July at the Barracuda Championship, beating Patrick Rodgers in a playoff, and comes off a season-best finish of 11th at Houston last week.

Bhatia, ranked 87th in the world, began on the 10th hole with a birdie, making a putt from just outside 16 feet, but he found a fairway bunker off the 11th tee and made his first bogey of the week on that hole and followed with a three-putt bogey at 15.

"This is probably going to be the hardest day for me," he said. "I struggled a lot off the tee and that's not good out here, but I managed my way."

Bhatia responded with nine-foot birdie putts at the par-5 second and par-3 seventh then added another at the par-5 eighth, blasting out of a greenside bunker to just outside five feet and sinking the putt.

"I felt way calmer than I expected to and I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing," Bhatia said. "The wind was a lot trickier, greens are getting firmer even in the morning. It's just kind of pace myself and try and execute."


Back-nine starter McIlroy blasted from the left rough to within 19 feet on the 10th hole and sank the birdie putt, but took his lone bogey of the first two days at the par-3 16th, needing three just to escape the rough.

McIlroy responded with a 19-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th and a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-4 fifth.

"It was pretty good," McIlroy said. "It was tricky conditions. Akshay is playing really well, but apart from that, no one's really lighting the world on fire.

"Just keep grinding away. I've only made one bogey over two days, which I'm really pleased with. Would have been nice to make a few more birdies, but pretty happy with the last two days."