GOLF: Rookie takes lead after 36 in Houston

HUMBLE, Texas (AP) - Course knowledge matters at the Houston Open.

PGA Tour rookie Chris Kirk shot a 3-under 69 on Friday to take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Anthony Kim and 2008 winner Johnson Wagner after two rounds at Redstone.

Kirk was 9-under par, and played his last few holes just as the wind picked up in the afternoon and made scoring more difficult.

Kim and Wagner took advantage of the calm morning conditions and used their background at the course to move into contention. Kim shot a 64, the lowest round of the day, and Wagner had a 67.

"I've got very good feelings as soon as I step on the property here," Wagner said.

Padraig Harrington, first-round leader Jimmy Walker and Josh Teater were two shots back at 7 under.

Organizers groomed the Tournament Course at Redstone to simulate conditions that players will see at the Masters next week, and the set-up lured many of the world's top players to Houston.

Phil Mickelson (70) and Lee Westwood (72) were part of a large group at 4 under and Ernie Els (72) and Fred Couples (72) were among the players at 1 under.

Kim is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the event since Vijay Singh won in 2004 and '05, the last two years it was played at the adjacent members' course.

The Tournament Course became the host in 2006, and Kim has enjoyed almost every visit.

Before he turned pro, Kim was the only player to break par in winning a collegiate event here in 2006. He tied for fifth in the Houston Open as a tour rookie in 2007 and shot three sub-70 rounds last year to earn his third career victory.

"It helps, knowing I played well before, knowing I made a couple putts when it mattered," he said. "Some shots I had are similar, some putts I had are very similar, so I try to remember those things, and play off that."

Kim's 64 was four strokes better than his lowest round when he won last year.

Starting on the back nine, Kim made six birdies in his first 10 holes, including chip-ins on Nos. 12 and 16. He needed only 22 putts to equal his lowest round since January.

Kim said before the tournament that his swing needed major retooling and that he spent several days working with coach Adam Schreiber on changes. Kim's gratified that the work is already producing results.

"It feels great to have that feeling of confidence and go out there, make some good golf swings and make a couple of putts after that," Kim said.

Wagner feels a more emotional connection to Redstone, after earning his first tour victory here three years ago. He needs to win this week to qualify for the Masters, but says next week's major has hardly crossed his mind.

A Charlotte resident, Wagner ranks the tournament at Quail Hollow near his home and the Houston event as important as any he plays all year.

"There are a few regular tour events that I treat as a major," he said. "Houston and Charlotte will always be my two favorite events that we play."


Lewis has 3-shot lead

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) - Stacy Lewis persevered through more desert heat to shoot a 3-under 69 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, opening a three-shot lead Friday over Yani Tseng, Brittany Lincicome and Jane Park.

Lewis finished at 9-under par after several big putts during the second round, coolly reaching the halfway point of the LPGA Tour's first major in strong position to chase her first victory.

Tseng, the defending champion and the world's top-ranked player, had a 68. Lincicome shot a 72, and Park a 70. Michelle Wie had a 67, matching the day's best round, to reach 3 under.

The leaders all managed to thrive on dry, speedy greens during a second windless day at Mission Hills, with the temperature topping 100 degrees by midday. Houston Open

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