Six players share halfway lead at tight Sicilian Open, Daly two off pace

John Daly made five birdies and an eagle in his second round on Friday to move to 6 under and challenge the leaders at the Sicilian Open on the European Tour. With afternoon winds blowing in off the Mediterranean, the 46-year-old Daly managed the conditions to post a 5-under 67.

“The last 11 holes were very, very difficult.” Daly said. “The winds just got stronger and stronger and you never want to say pars are a good score, but today pars were a good score.”

The Sicilian Open is in its second year on the European Tour, and its first at Verdura Golf and Spa Resort.

Daly is two shots off the lead shared by six players, including first-round leader Peter Lawrie, who followed an opening 64 with a level-par 72.

“My putter went cold, it was as simple as that.” Lawrie said. “The greens were difficult to read but I missed three 5-footers in a row, which was tough to take after yesterday.”

Lawrie was joined at 8 under by Jamie Donaldson (71), David Lynn (69), Pelle Edberg (66), Maarten Lafeber (68) and Simon Wakefield (67).

With the cut at 3 under, a European Tour record was tied for the least number of shots between the cut mark and the leading score. The last time the gap was five was the 2004 Qatar Masters.

Home favorite Matteo Manassero failed in his attempt to make it into the weekend, shooting his second straight even-par 72.

Defending champion Raphael Jacquelin (73) also missed the cut, but American Rich Beem, playing in Europe because he has lost his card on the PGA Tour, shot his second 69 to move alongside Daly at 6 under.

Edberg was the biggest mover Friday morning, carding a 6-under-par round of 66, but it was a disappointing day for Irishman Lawrie, who had posted a brilliant 64 on Thursday but had to settle for a level-par round on Friday.

In contrast, Edberg managed six birdies and an eagle while Englishman Wakefield also impressed with his 67 and Lafeber’s 68.

The sextet have only three European Tour titles among them courtesy of Lynn, Lafeber and Lawrie, who was most the recent champion in Spain in 2008.

“It was just one those days when everything went right,” said Wakefield. “I hit every shot I wanted to hit, and managed to hole my fair share of putts, so I’m delighted.

“The company’s been great, the weather’s perfect and there aren’t many more scenic places like this to play golf, so I’ve really enjoyed myself,” he added. “It makes you feel a bit more relaxed, and I play my best golf when I am relaxed.”

Lafeber, who had to go back to Q-School last year after finishing 149th in the Race to Dubai, picked out Welshman Donaldson, who would have led on his own had he not bogeyed his final hole, as the man to watch.

“Last year my long game was horrible — I was hitting it all over the place,” said the Dutchman. “So I’m happy to be back playing well again.

“It’s looking pretty bunched at the moment. Jamie Donaldson is playing very well, and there’s some good players up there so it won’t be easy,” he added. “It’s important for me to get off to a good start, and hopefully I can take more of the chances which come my way over the weekend.”

Among the players on 7 under is Soren Kjeldsen, who was one of the leaders for much of the day but bogeyed the 17th for a level-par round, while Ireland’s Shane Lowry is also one behind following a 70.


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Tseng cards second straight 68, leads Kraft Nabisco by one after 36 holes

After taking one round off from her utter domination of the LPGA Tour to get rested and reinvigorated, Yani Tseng is right back in her usual spot atop the leaderboard.

The world’s top-ranked female golfer shot her second straight 68 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Friday, moving into a one-stroke lead over Haeji Kang after the second round of the season’s first major.

The Kraft Nabisco Championship began in 1972, and became a major in 1983.

Lindsey Wright (71) and Sun Young Yoo (69) were third at 6 under, while Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak was three strokes back in fifth midway through the only major she has never won. Pak shot a 69 to move to 5 under, joined by Karin Sjodin and world No. 2 Na Yeon Choi.

Yet everybody in the talent-packed field realizes they’re only chasing Tseng, who has won the tour’s last two tournaments.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” said Australia’s Wright, who shared the lead with Tseng for five holes. “I think it’s great to have her up there again, but it’s also great to be able to challenge her and try to give her a run for her money.”

After finishing two strokes back on Thursday, Tseng produced yet another relentless round of long drives and steady putting. The 23-year-old Taiwanese star has led nine of the LPGA Tour’s last 10 rounds, and the five-time major winner has won three of five tournaments this year and six of 12 overall.

And she still had enough energy after her stellar second round to play a little pickup basketball.

“You never get tired when you want to win a tournament,” Tseng said. “I just figured out I’m tired after the last two wins when you come into this week, but after (Thursday), I had a good sleep, and I relaxed a few days, and I think I’m coming back with a fresh focus.”

The rest of the field should be worried when the Orlando Magic fan has enough energy to hoop it up with her manager and friends. After fighting exhaustion during practice and in the first round Thursday, Tseng woke up fresh to resume her quest to become the youngest golfer to win six majors — three years younger than Tiger Woods, who was 26 when he won his sixth.

Tseng took control by exploiting her distance advantage over nearly everybody off the tee. After following a long birdie putt on her fourth hole with another birdie on her fifth, she birdied three of Mission Hills’ four par 5s with soaring drives that aren’t regularly matched by her fellow pros.

Pak stayed in contention with her second straight solid round despite playing through much of the warmest weather after starting with the final tee time of the morning group.

The 34-year-old Pak has won five majors, including three LPGA Championships, and has 25 tour victories overall, but the former prodigy and Korean golf pioneer has just one victory on the LPGA Tour since July 2007. She shares many concerns voiced by Wright on Thursday about the importance of adding balance and perspective to the grind of tour life.

“I’m having trouble for five or six years, actually,” Pak said. “I still love golf, and I can’t quit it because I still really want to play. It took a lot for myself to be happy. It was difficult to find out. … Slowly, I know I’m getting better and better, and my attitude and everything is getting slowly better. Starting last year around the fall, I don’t know how, (but) everything is really calm for me.”

Although Pak has four top-10 finishes in the Kraft Nabisco, she has never done better than ninth at Mission Hills, failing to finish the career grand slam.

“This is one of my goals I’ve set,” said Pak, who won four majors before she turned 25. “Getting into the Hall of Fame, that’s the biggest, and next, trying to win a major like this. This is the goal for me for 14, 15 years. This is the one I need, but this is the one that always gives me a hard time.”

Kang birdied her final hole in the Palm Springs afternoon heat to conclude an eventful seven-birdie, three-bogey round, moving to 7 under with a 68. She has just two top-10 finishes in her four-year LPGA Tour career.

Wright was one stroke off the lead after the opening round, and she spent Friday morning reading supportive emails from around the world after she spoke about her comeback from depression and anxiety. After eight straight second-round pars, Wright put her iron shot on No. 9 on the front of the green, where it rolled straight in for an eagle.

“I didn’t see it go in,” Wright said. “I just heard the screaming.”

Wright took a share of the lead with a birdie on the 10th, but fell back with a three-putt double bogey on the 15th.

Michelle Wie shot a 77 to finish 6 over, missing consecutive cuts for the first time since 2007. Opening-round leader Amy Yang dropped back into eighth with a 2-over 74 after starting with a 66.

Teenage rookie Jenny Shin finished 5 over, but the Los Angeles-area product won a Kia Optima with a hole-in-one on the 179-yard 17th.


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Oosthuizen and Davis tied at Houston Open as darkness halts Friday play

Brian Davis changed his life last year, and he’s finally seeing the adjustments translate to better golf scores.

Davis shot a 65 in his second round Friday and shares the lead at 11 under par with Louis Oosthuizen at the rain-delayed Shell Houston Open.

Shell has been the Houston Open’s title sponsor since 1992, giving it the third-longest tenure on the PGA Tour. The oil company’s current contract runs through 2017.

The second round was suspended due to darkness at 7:36 p.m. with 70 players still on the course.

Houston resident Jeff Maggert was at 10 under, but he had eight holes left to play in his second round. Defending champion Phil Mickelson (70), J.B. Holmes (67), Tommy Gainey (67), and Greg Owen (69) finished their second rounds and were two shots behind the leaders at 9 under.

Three-time major champion Ernie Els, who must win to qualify for next week’s Masters, was in the group at 5 under after a second-round 69.

A thunderstorm dumped 1 1/4 inches of rain Thursday, causing the backup. The players enjoyed sunny and calm conditions Friday, but the fairways were damp, and players were permitted to lift, clean and place.

Davis played a total of 32 holes on Friday, finishing a first-round 68 and then making seven birdies on his way to his best score of the year.

The 37-year-old Englishman took a hard look at his life late last year after his father, Robert, died of cancer. He changed caddies, hired a sports psychologist and retooled his swing.

“Probably the highlight of the offseason and to this season was taking a look at everything I did on and off the golf course,” Davis said. “I think I’m more prepared going forward now this year.”

Davis, a father of three, also worked with sports psychologist Bob Winters on managing his time more precisely.

“I really struggle when my kids say, `Can we do this?’ and I should be practicing,” Davis said. “It’s hard to juggle that around. You’ve got to give yourself some time as well. Obviously, we looked over that at the end of the last year and changed my practice routines, changed a lot of things.”

Davis felt recharged at the start of the season, but missed the cut in three of his first four starts. He finally saw signs of improvement when he tied for 47th at the Honda Classic, then tied for 63rd in Puerto Rico the following week.

“It’s one of them things, you’ve got to stay the course and keep at it,” Davis said.

Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, is also making changes, though far less dramatic. He’s tinkering with his swing and gone back to the driver he used when he won at St. Andrews.

The 29-year-old South African hit 11 of 14 fairways off the tee in his second round on his way to a 66.

“I hit it well at the Open in 2010, and I feel like I’m very close to hitting it like I did there,” Oosthuizen said. “Swing-wise, I feel confident.”

Mickelson finished a 65 on Friday morning and started his second round on No. 10 about an hour later. His afternoon round stalled after he birdied 13 and 15, the two par 5s on the back nine. He hit his tee shot over the green on the par-3 16th and bogeyed, then parred the next five holes.

“I played pretty well the second round, but I didn’t get the score that I had hoped,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got to light it up this weekend.”

Mickelson played with Fred Couples, who won on the Champions Tour last week. Couples, who played at the University of Houston and has made 18 consecutive cuts at the event, is 4 under through two rounds.

Couples moved within two shots of the lead, but dropped back when he dunked his tee shot in the water on the 488-yard, par-4 18th hole and took a double bogey. The 52-year-old Couples shot a 73 in the afternoon.

The Shell Houston Open became the run-up event to the Masters in 2007. Despite the delay, Tournament Director Steve Timms is hoping to finish the tournament by 5:00 p.m. Sunday to accommodate not only television, but also the players heading to Augusta.

Like Els, Davis must win here to earn an invitation to the Masters next week. Davis has five runner-up finishes in seven years on the tour, but he’s never won.

“Obviously, I’m well aware that I need to start winning,” Davis said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t force it. You’ve just got to keep putting yourself in position.”

Mickelson says he’s prefers playing a tournament the week before a major to get into a “competitive frame of mind.” Last year, he shot 63-65 over the weekend to win by three strokes over Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank.


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Wagner, re-dedicated to golf game, back at site of first victory in Houston

Johnson Wagner’s first PGA Tour victory proved to be more of an anomaly than a springboard.

Wagner won the 2008 Shell Houston Open, then failed to earn a top-10 finish the rest of the year, missing five cuts. The following year was even worse, with 13 missed cuts in 27 starts.

Shell has been the Houston Open’s title sponsor since 1992, giving it the third-longest tenure on the PGA Tour. The oil company’s current contract runs through 2017.

“I went into a little dark place in my golf career,” Wagner said.

He and his wife, Katie, had two children in the midst of his slump, and Wagner said fatherhood took him away — happily — from concentrating on his game.

Wagner re-dedicated himself last year with a new personal trainer and emphasis on his short game. The hard work has yielded eye-popping results this year, and Wagner returns to Houston this week with five top-15 finishes in 2012, including a victory at the Sony Open.

Phil Mickelson is the defending champion at the Houston Open, and the field also includes local favorite Fred Couples and international stars Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els, who must win to avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 1993.

Wagner is not a household name, but he’s the player atop the FedExCup standings and he leads the tour in birdies (138) and eagles (8).

“It’s nice to see stuff pay off so quickly in the year,” he said, “and I’ve set myself up for some big goals for the rest of the year.”

And he’s working on becoming more recognizable to casual fans, still sporting a shaggy black mustache that he started growing before the season began. It’s drawn so much attention, he’s thinking about turning it into his trademark.

“It’s incredible,” Wagner said. “It’s kind of given me my own little brand, I guess. Thought if I played well, it would give me a little more recognition. It’s kind of been unbelievable.”

The tournament became the run-up event to the Masters in 2007, and organizers have embraced the distinction. The Tournament Course at Redstone is manicured to simulate conditions at Augusta, with light rough, fairways mowed toward the tees, shaved mounds around the greens and slick greens.

The setup has generated mostly positive feedback among the pros, particularly among international players. This year, the field has 40 players representing 17 countries outside of the United States, both tournament records.

Els is approaching the tournament like any other, and not worrying about the bigger prize at stake. He’ll consider winning at Redstone a bonus, and is more focused on building on his strong start this year, which includes top-five finishes in his past two starts.

“You can’t go into a week putting pressure on yourself to win to get into another week,” Els said Wednesday. “If I get into the Masters, that’s great. If I don’t, then I’ve had many Masters that I can look back at, and I’ll get back in there next year.”

The Masters could still offer a special invitation to Els, like tournament officials did for Greg Norman in 2002. Ryo Ishikawa, a nine-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, has a special invitation this year.

Els isn’t expecting a call between now and Sunday, when the Masters field will be set.

“It is an invitational event,” he said, “and they have their reasons to invite somebody or not, and that’s the sad part. I’ll probably miss it for the first time in 18 or 19 years. My streak will come to an end, unfortunately.”

Mickelson, meanwhile, played at Augusta on Monday and Tuesday before arriving in Houston late Wednesday. He’ll play the first two rounds with defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Couples, who played at the University of Houston and draws immense galleries here every year.

Shell has been the tournament’s title sponsor since 1992, the third-longest tenure on tour. The oil company’s current contract runs through 2017.

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Lawrie sets course record to lead by one after first round of Sicilian Open

Practice made perfect for Ireland’s Peter Lawrie on Thursday as he carded a course-record 64 to claim the lead after the first round of the Sicilian Open on the European Tour.

Lawrie carded nine birdies and just one bogey at Verdura Golf and Spa Resort to finish 8 under par, one ahead of Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen, Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Argentina’s Tano Goya.

The Sicilian Open is in its second year on the European Tour, and its first at Verdura Golf and Spa Resort.

The 38-year-old Dubliner missed the cut in last week’s Hassan II Trophy after rounds of 69 and 76, but bounced back in style as he looks to add to his sole European Tour title at the Spanish Open in 2008.

“I’m delighted after last week,” Lawrie said. “I got it to 4 or 5 under and unfortunately played 12 holes in 5 over on Saturday and walked off the golf course devastated. But I came here and really practiced hard over the last couple of days and I’m delighted that I actually holed a few putts today.

“It’s forgiving off the tee here, I have to admit, but the design is very good and the ball is running on the fairways so it makes us short hitters have some good chances,” he explained. “The closing holes you can make a few birdies, but you just have to watch that 18th hole, it’s a daunting tee shot. The water is certainly in your mind when you tee off.”

Lawrie saved par from 10 feet on the 18th after finding a greenside bunker with his approach to the 475-yard par 4, with his only bogey of the day coming on the 13th.

And asked about his approach for the rest of the tournament, he added: “Just keep on plodding away.

“You can’t win a tournament on Thursday as they always say but you can lose it. I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” he said. “I’m out early tomorrow, which is good for me, I’ll try to post a number and let everyone shoot at it tomorrow afternoon.”

Kjeldsen had earlier set the clubhouse target with a 65 containing an eagle, six birdies and one bogey, while Donaldson — aiming for his first European Tour success in his 249th attempt — matched it with a flawless effort featuring five birdies and an eagle.

The 36-year-old Donaldson is certainly in low-scoring form after firing three eagles in a closing 61 to finish third in the Hassan Trophy on Sunday.

There were contrasting fortunes for John Daly and Costantino Rocca, with the duo who fought out a playoff for the 1995 British Open title paired together here 17 years after their battle at St. Sndrews.

The American enjoyed the better day with a 1-under round of 71, while Rocca – now 55 years old and a regular on the European Senior Tour – shot a 5-over-par 77.

Eighteen-year-old Matteo Manassero, at 61st the highest-ranked player in the field, carded a 72.


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Yang leads by one at Kraft Nabisco, Tseng two shots back in third place

Amy Yang shot a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Lindsey Wright in the opening round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Thursday.

Yani Tseng was third at 68, ending the top-ranked player’s streak of eight consecutive rounds with the lead. The five-time major champion has won two straight tournaments and three of five this season, while Yang and Wright have never won on the LPGA Tour.

The Kraft Nabisco Championship began in 1972, and became a major in 1983.

The 22-year-old Yang made five birdies in seven holes around the turn at Mission Hills, using a steady putting stroke to take the early lead in the first major of the year.

Wearing oversized sunglasses even while putting, Michelle Wie opened with a 73. Defending champion Stacy Lewis had four consecutive bogeys in a 74.

Wright’s 67 with five birdies on the back nine of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course is another positive step in the 32-year-old Australian’s comeback from depression and anxiety. After quitting golf for the final four months of last year, Wright returned with a victory in the New Zealand Women’s Open last month, followed by this strong start at Mission Hills.

“It wasn’t a great time, and I just couldn’t really get through it,” Wright said. “It’s hard to explain other than from a physical standpoint. People think, `Depression, oh, just get over it.’ It really impacts you physically, and playing on this tour, grinding it out each week when you’re not sleeping and you can’t concentrate or focus, it just gets you down, and it’s a bit of a nightmare.”

Yang chipped in from the fringe for birdie on the 13th, highlighting a strong start at Mission Hills for the former teen sensation. Yang has five top-10 finishes in majors over the previous three years after winning on the Ladies European Tour, but the table tennis enthusiast who idolizes fellow Korean pro Se Ri Pak hasn’t broken through to hold an LPGA Tour trophy.

“Everything was working well,” Yang said. “I think especially my putting was better than other tournaments. I had a couple of shots that went into the trees, and it was hard to play, but I had some good par saves and good birdie putts.”

Lewis has spent the week fulfilling innumerable public-relations duties as the returning Kraft Nabisco champ, and those long days might have affected her game. She reached the turn with four consecutive bogeys, slapping the head of her putter in anger after missing a putt on the eighth hole.

“People were cheering me around the whole day,” Lewis said. “I just couldn’t quite get things going.”

Tseng knows plenty about distractions and exhaustion after dominating the tour over the past year or so: She felt tired during practice rounds this week after driving from San Diego to Palm Springs following her victory in the Kia Classic in Carlsbad last Sunday.

Tseng also bogeyed the eighth with a feeble chip out of the greenside rough, but the Taiwanese star gathered herself for four birdies in the next six holes.

“I was really disappointed today,” Tseng said. “I don’t hit many good shots, and I don’t leave myself lots of birdie chances out there.”

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Ascension of female CEO at IBM revives Augusta membership debate

The appointment of a new chief executive at IBM has revived the debate over Augusta National Golf Club’s all-male membership just one week before the Masters.

IBM hired Virginia Rometty as its CEO this year, which could mean a break in recent tradition if Augusta National sticks to its history of never having a woman as one of its roughly 300 members.

For complete coverage of the 2012 Masters, click here.

The last four CEOs of IBM all belonged to the club. However, a woman has never worn an Augusta National green jacket since it opened in 1933.

“I think they’re both in a bind,” Martha Burk said Thursday evening from Washington.

It was Burk who led an unsuccessful campaign 10 years ago for Augusta National to admit a female member, demanding that four companies drop their television sponsorship because of the discrimination. Hootie Johnson, club chairman at the time, said Augusta National would not be pressured to take a female member “at the point of a bayonet.”

“IBM is in a bigger bind than the club,” Burk said. “The club trashed their image years ago. IBM is a corporation. They ought to care about the brand, and they ought to care about what people think. And if they’re not careful, they might undermine their new CEO.”

Augusta National declined comment, keeping with its policy of not discussing membership.

Billy Payne, who ran the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, took over as club chairman in 2006. He said that day the home of the Masters “has no specific timetable” for admitting women. The question was raised at the 2007 and 2010 Masters, and both times, he said membership issues were private.

Rometty succeeds Sam Palmissano at IBM, which runs the Masters’ website from the bottom floor of the media center. According to a list published by USA Today in 2002, the previous three CEOs also were members — Louis Gertsner, John Akers and John Open.

Johnson wound up doing away with television sponsorship for two years to keep the Masters’ corporate partners out of the fray.

Burk doesn’t believe it should be that simple this time.

“What IBM needs to do is draw a line in the sand — `We’re either going to pull our sponsorship and membership and any ancillary activities we support with the tournament, or the club is going to have to honor our CEO the way they have in the past,'” Burk said. “There’s no papering over it. They just need to step up and do the right thing.

“They need to not pull that argument that they support the tournament and not the club,” she said. “That does not fool anybody, and they could undermine their new CEO.”

Burk said she would not be surprised if IBM pressured Rometty to say she doesn’t want to be a member.

IBM has not commented.

“Really, I don’t think it’s her responsibility,” Burk said. “It’s the board of directors. They need to take action here. They don’t need to put that on her. They need to say, `This is wrong. We thought the club was on the verge of making changes several years ago, and we regretfully end our sponsorship to maintain her credibility and the company brand.’ “

The debate returns just in time for one of the most anticipated Masters in years. Tiger Woods finally returned to winning last week at Bay Hill and is considered one of the favorites, along with U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy. Eight of the top 20 players in the world ranking have won heading into the first major of the year, a list that includes world No. 1 Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson.

Now comes a sensitive issue that dogged the tournament a decade ago, and might not go away easily.

Augusta National does not ban women. They can play the golf course, but no woman has worn a green jacket, a status symbol in business and golf.

Rometty is said to play golf sparingly. Her greater passion is scuba diving.

The new CEO has been named to Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for the last seven years, and was at No. 7 a year ago. She started with IBM in 1981.

“We have a face, we have a resume, we have a title and we have a credible reason to do it that doesn’t involve Martha Burk,” she said.

Burk said she is no longer chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. She had planned to step down until the first flap with the Masters began in the summer of 2002. Now, she said she runs the Corporate Accountability Project for the council, a project born from her battle with Augusta National.

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Cabrera and Pettersson share lead as rain halts first round of Houston Open

Angel Cabrera and Carl Pettersson took advantage of early tee times to beat the rain and share the early lead in the Shell Houston Open.

Cabrera and Pettersson shot 7-under 65 in calm conditions Thursday morning to set the pace before the first round was suspended by a thunderstorm.

Shell has been the Houston Open’s title sponsor since 1992, giving it the third-longest tenure on the PGA Tour. The oil company’s current contract runs through 2017.

Only 51 players completed play before the horn sounded at 1:27 p.m. Tournament Director Steve Timms said the storm dumped about 1 1/4 inches of rain, leaving shallow ponds on many of the fairways.

“You just can’t play under the rules of golf with that much casual water,” Timms said.

Grounds crews fanned out across the course late in the afternoon, and Timms was optimistic that Redstone would be playable when the first round was scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. on Friday.

“Let it drain overnight, and I think it will be just fine,” Timms said.

Ricky Barnes and Jeff Maggert completed their rounds in the morning and were one shot off the lead. Brian Harman also was 6 under, but had three holes left.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Ernie Els, who needs a victory to qualify for the Masters next week, were playing their front nines when play was suspended.

The Houston Open became the run-up event to the Masters in 2007. Timms is hoping to finish the tournament by 5:00 p.m. Sunday to accommodate not only television, but also the players heading to Augusta.

“We do everything we can operationally to hit that window,” Timms said.

The morning groups enjoyed sunshine and calm conditions.

Pettersson birdied four of the first six holes, then reached the par-5 eighth in two and two-putted to reach 5 under. He added birdies on Nos. 11 and 15, then found the greenside bunker with his approach on No. 17 en route to a bogey.

Pettersson missed the cut the last two weeks at Innisbrook and Bay Hill and blamed poor iron play. He changed his setup on the range Tuesday and hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation Thursday.

“I felt confident with that, but that doesn’t always relate to good play,” he said. “But I felt like I was striking the ball well again, and I told myself just to play aggressive and shoot at the pins and see what happens.”

The big-hitting Cabrera birdied three of the four par 5s, and rolled in a 22-foot, downhill birdie putt on the 18th hole.

“The course is perfect,” Cabrera said before the storm. “It’s really spectacular and it’s right for making a good score.”

The two-time major champion has missed the cut in four or five PGA Tour starts this year. But Charlie Epps, his Houston-based swing coach and the director of golf at Redstone, says Cabrera has rounded into form in recent weeks.

“He got off to a slow start and he’s been working hard and it’s coming on,” Epps said. “He’s been close in a couple of tournaments. It takes time.”

Cabrera has played at Redstone every year since 2007, the year he won the U.S. Open. He missed the cut here in 2009, then won the Masters the following week.

Epps said Cabrera is concentrating on this week and not thinking about the Masters just yet.

“He wants to play well this week, he’s focused on this week,” Epps said.

Barnes overcame a bout of food poisoning early in the week. He skipped the pro-am Wednesday, but felt fine Thursday morning.

“I got a lot of rest, lot of fluids in me,” Barnes said. “And I feel good, and I’ll probably be able to get a little workout in later in the day.”

The 48-year-old Maggert, who lives in Houston, is winless in 23 starts in his hometown event. The 66 on Thursday is his lowest competitive round at the Tournament Course at Redstone.

“Kind of struggled a little bit since we moved to Redstone, but hopefully this week, I can turn it around,” Maggert said. “It was a fun day. I felt some confidence on the greens today, and I made a few putts early and (it) kind of carried over for the rest of the day.”

Chris Kirk, who tied for second behind Mickelson last year, withdrew Thursday morning to attend to a personal matter.

The tournament was delayed by bad weather for the first time since 2009.

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Manassero, after missing on Masters, inspired by fans in Sicilian Open

The Sicilian Open is in its second year on the European Tour, and its first at Verdura Golf and Spa Resort.

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Neumann of Sweden named Europe captain for 2013 Solheim Cup match

Liselotte Neumann took her name out of the mix as Solheim Cup captain because she thought it would consume too much of her time. A series of messages from European players convinced her it would be worth it.

Neumann was appointed European captain on Wednesday for the 2013 matches, giving the 45-year-old Swede one last chance to celebrate on American soil.

The Kraft Nabisco Championship began in 1972, and became a major in 1983.

She was on the winning team twice in six tries as a Solheim Cup player, both in Europe. She was an assistant captain under Alison Nicholas in 2009 outside Chicago, where the Americans kept their record perfect at home.

The Solheim Cup will be played Aug. 16-18 next year at Colorado Golf Club. Meg Mallon previously was selected as U.S. captain. The Americans lead the series 8-4, though Europe is coming off a win last year in Ireland.

“I think that gives all our players great confidence,” Neumann said. “So I think everybody will be really fired up to hold onto the trophy and try to win it on U.S. soil for the first time. I think we can get everybody fired up for that.”

It took Neumann a while to get excited about the captaincy.

She learned in November she was under consideration, and five days later, asked that her name be taken off the list.

“Just sort of felt that I had been involved with the Solheim the last four years, being the vice captain in 2009, being the junior captain, and I really had to think about it,” she said. “Do I want to do this for two more years?”

Neumann was thinking about getting into teaching, and she was taking nutrition classes. Over the next few months, however, she received emails and text messages from players, along with friends and family members, asking her to reconsider.

“Getting those notes from some of the players really got me thinking again.’ Am I going to miss out on this if I don’t do this?’ I might never get the opportunity again,” Neumann said. “I put my name back on the list and I got the OK. I’m very honored, and it feels great to have that support.”

Neumann had a 6-10-5 record her six times playing in the Solheim Cup. She won 27 times around the world, including the Women’s British Open before it was considered a major, and her lone major is the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open at Baltimore Country Club. 

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