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Garcia moves to top of Houston Open leaderboard

HUMBLE, Texas (AP) — Sergio Garcia has yet to finish lower than 16th in a PGA Tour event this season.

The Spaniard appears well on his way to keeping that streak intact this week after posting a 7-under par 65 and matching the course 36-hole record of 12 under overall after the second round of the Houston Open on Friday.

As well as Garcia played in taking a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, the focus afterward was a mix of this week — with a heavy dose of attention turned toward next week's Masters. Garcia has eight PGA Tour wins in his career, but the 34-year-old world No. 8— once thought to be Tiger Woods' challenger for the top spot in the world — is still in search of his first major championship.

He'd like nothing more than end that quest next week, while taking full advantage of his prep time at the Golf Club of Houston's Augusta National-like conditions for the rest of this weekend. "I mean, obviously I feel good, but every week is different," Garcia said. "First of all, we got to finish this week, and hopefully next week I'll be feeling good (and) not too many things will be bothering me health-wise, and then just feel good on the course, hopefully play well and things happen."

Garcia, opening on the back nine, climbed the leaderboard with a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch on his front nine. His eagle on the par-5 13th came after sticking his 282-yard second shot to 5 feet, giving him a 4-shot lead following his morning round.

Kuchar, who opened with a 6-under 66 on Thursday, briefly tied Garcia at 12 under late in his afternoon round before closing with a bogey from the fairway bunker on the 18th. The two will be paired with Matt Jones on Saturday after tournament officials decided to send threesomes off both tees early in the morning in an attempt to beat expected rain in the afternoon.

"If we get some rain and it doesn't blow too hard, of course the course will soften up and the scores will go even lower," Kuchar said. "No telling ... It could be really tough." The weather was the clearest it's been all week on Friday, with the sun shining brightly and the wind gusting throughout the day at the 7,441-yard Golf Club of Houston.

The windy conditions limited first-round co-leader Bill Haas to a 2-over 74. Charley Hoffman, the other first-round leader, fell to 3 under par overall after a 4-over 76. While the early leaders struggled, Phil Mickelson shot a 2-under 70 and is 6 under overall, six shots back of Garcia in ninth.

After a bogey-free opening round on Thursday, Mickelson — still recovering from last week's muscle pull that forced his withdrawal from the Texas Open — overcame a pair of bogeys on Friday with four birdies.

The five-time major winner, who won the Houston Open in 2011, had back-to-back birdies to reach 6 under where he is one of 11 golfers within six shots of Garcia. "It was a lot more difficult today with this wind than it was the first day," Mickelson said. "But either way, I feel like I felt better than I have in a long time with my game."

Garcia finished Friday two shots off the course record of 63 in just his second visit to the former Redstone Golf Club — which switched names following an ownership change. He only needed 25 putts and showed he's ready for the slick greens and tight fairways at next week's Masters.

He equaled the course's previous low 36 holes set by Johnson Wagner in 2008 and matched in 2012 by Jeff Maggert. Garcia, who opened with a 5-under 67 on Thursday, began Friday's round on the back nine. His first birdie came following a 12-foot putt on No. 12, and he followed that with a spectacular eagle on the par-5 13th.

He started the 592-yard hole with a 307-yard tee shot, following that with a 282-yard 3-wood to 5 feet of the hole. The eagle putt sent him into the lead at 8 under, and he then birdied the par-3 14th before putting together three straight birdies on his back nine.

"It was nice to kind of get going because as windy as it was, I knew there were a lot of difficult holes out there and a lot of shots that were going to test you," Garcia said. Jones, Cameron Tringale, Jimmy Walker and Shawn Stefani are tied for third at 8 under, while Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis are at 7 under. Walker, who leads the PGA Tour with three wins this season, matched Garcia's 7-under 65 on Friday.

Defending champion D.A. Points missed the cut after shooting a 2-over 74 on Friday and finishing 1 over overall.

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