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Molder shoots 66 to take Houston Open lead
Molder Golf

HUMBLE, Texas — Getting to the Masters is secondary in Bryce Molder's mind. He just wants that elusive first victory on the PGA Tour.

Molder birdied four of the last seven holes for a 6-under 66 and a one-stroke lead Friday in the final event before the Masters next week at Augusta National. Molder had a 9-under 135 total on Redstone's Tournament Course.

The former Georgia Tech star is winless in 88 career PGA Tour starts and he's never played in the Masters. Sure, he's thought about punching his ticket this week, but that's not as important to him as winning.

"Once you're out there and over the ball, you're not really thinking, 'Well, maybe this is what could or could not get me in next week,'" Molder said. "If you ask me that Sunday afternoon and I've got a two-shot lead walking down the last hole, maybe so.

"But I haven't won on the PGA Tour. When I win out here, first and foremost, it's going to be exciting."

Molder made short birdie putts on 12 and 13, then chipped in on the par-5 15th. He rolled in a 33-foot putt on 17 to take the outright lead.

Molder had a breakthrough season in 2009, with three top-10 finishes and more than $1 million in earnings for the first time. He has three more top 10s already this year, and his confidence grows a bit each time he plays himself in contention.

"The more recent it's been, the more comfortable you are," Molder said. "When you're nervous, it's a good thing. Dealing with playing and expectations and trying to get committed out there and all these kinds of things — you just have to be there to learn it and go through it. It's a process."

First-round co-leader Cameron Percy (69) and fellow PGA Tour rookie Alex Prugh (66) were tied for second, and Lee Westwood (68), Anthony Kim (69), Joe Ogilvie (67) and Kevin Stadler (70) were 7 under after another windy day.

Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson made the cut, but were far off the pace. Els (74) and Couples (73) were even par, and Mickelson (76) was 1 over.

Els is trying to win his third straight start and the 50-year-old Couples is warming up for the Masters after three consecutive wins on the Champions Tour.

They're among several big names came to Houston to tune up for the Masters. Organizers have tried to simulate course conditions that players will see at Augusta National — fast greens, light rough, shaved-down runoff areas and fairways mowed toward the tees.

Mickelson fell out of contention when he took a bizarre triple bogey on No. 10. He hooked his tee shot to the base of a bush, then went to a right-handed stance to punch it out.

A second ball popped out when Mickelson swung, and the ball he was playing ricocheted off his leg, a two-stroke penalty. He pitched his next shot to 18 feet and two-putted for a 7.

Couples was 2 under before driving into the fairway bunker on No. 18 and taking a bogey. Els bogeyed three of his last six holes.

Lucas Glover's second-round 68 included the first hole-in-one in the course's five-year tour history. Glover used a 6-iron on the 199-yard 16th hole for the first ace in the Houston Open since 2005. He was 3 under.

Percy and Prugh also are seeking their first wins.

The most notable distinction of Percy's career so far is that he's the last man to play a competitive round with Tiger Woods. He was paired with Woods on the final day of the Australian Masters on Nov. 15.

"All my friends think they're going to win a trivia contest in about 10 years or something," Percy said.

Percy is fortunate to even be playing in Houston. He was the first alternate on Monday and entered in a qualifier at nearby Cypresswood, thinking he was going to have to play his way in. He was standing on the first tee on when got a phone message saying that he was in the field.

Prugh withstood a double bogey on No. 3 to shoot a 66, the lowest score of the tournament later matched by Molder. Prugh mentally regrouped on the long walk between Nos. 3 and 4, then sank a 16-foot birdie putt to get going.

"I rolled that one in, and right there, that put my round around a little bit," Prugh said.