Akshay Bhatia battles stress to stay in control at Valero Texas Open

Rory McIlroy sits six shots behind leader as Masters preparations continue in San Antonio

By Reuters

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Akshay Bhatia of the United States in action at the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio. - AFP
Akshay Bhatia of the United States in action at the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio. - AFP

Published: Sat 6 Apr 2024, 4:50 PM

Akshay Bhatia used two late birdies to shoot a second-round 70 on Friday, giving him a healthy lead heading into the weekend at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

California-born Bhatia is at 11-under-par 133 after firing a 9-under 63 in the opening round at TPC San Antonio's Oaks Course.

He is five shots clear of the field after Denny McCarthy bogeyed the par-5 18th to finish a round of 70 and drop into a tie for second at 6 under with Russell Henley (69) and Brendon Todd (72).

Bhatia, 22, could qualify for his first major if he turns in a strong weekend. The Texas Open champion will receive the final berth into next week's Masters, if not already qualified.

Starting his day on the back nine, Bhatia opened birdie-bogey and picked up another bogey at the par-4 15th hole after three-putting from 57 feet. But a birdie at the par-5 second got him back on the right track.

He followed a 9-foot birdie putt at the par-3 seventh with a stellar save at the par-5 eighth, where he got out of a greenside bunker on his third shot and made a 5-footer for birdie.

"It was stressful, for sure, wasn't my best stuff," Bhatia said of his round. "I felt like I struggled a lot off the tee today, 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 know I'm reading the greens really good so I kind of understand when I'm missing putts right now why that's happening. So it's good, a good kind of understanding of kind of where I need to improve the next couple days."

Rory McIlroy is alone in fifth at 5 under after a 70 (three birdies, one bogey). The World No. 2 from Northern Ireland is tuning up before Augusta, where he will try to complete the career Grand Slam and end a nearly 10-year major championship drought.

"(I) just keep grinding away," McIlroy said. "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."

Todd lamented his closing bogey.

"It was a tough finish, not very happy with the score," he said. "I hit it really nice on the front nine, just didn't get a lot out of it there. On the back nine we had a couple mistakes and made some more bogeys than we needed. Yeah, just let a good one get away."

Webb Simpson (67) and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood (69) are part of a tie for sixth at 4 under. Jordan Spieth bounced back from a 73 with a Friday 68 to get to 3 under, tied for 10th.

Notable names missing the cut of 1 over par include Matt Kuchar (3 over), Rickie Fowler (4 over) and Tom Kim of South Korea (7 over).

Second-Round Leaderboard

1 Akshay Bhatia (-11)

T2 Brendon Todd (-6)

T2 Russell Henley (-6)

T2 Denny McCarthy (-6)

5 Rory McIlroy (-5)


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