Spaun takes control

WASHINGTON (AFP) — J.J. Spaun sank two late clutch putts to fire a three-under-par 67 and take a one-stroke lead after Friday’s second round of the US PGA Tour’s St. Jude Championship.

The 31-year-old American sank a 13-foot birdie putt on his penultimate hole and then closed with a seven-foot par putt to stand on 11-under 129 at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I feel good. It’s exciting,” Spaun said. “Still a lot of golf left. Just going to try to keep doing what I’ve been doing the last two days and hopefully it will pay off.”

Austrian Sepp Straka, who missed six consecutive cuts entering the event, shared second on 130 with American Troy Merritt and American Denny McCarthy another stroke adrift.

British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia shared fifth on 132 with Americans Brian Harman, Ryan Palmer, and Tony Finau.

The tournament is the opener of the FedEx Cup playoffs, a season-ending trio of events with a winner’s prize of $18 million.

Only 125 players qualified on season points and only the top 70 advance to next week’s BMW Championship, where the 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship in Atlanta are decided.

Spaun, whose grandfather was a Filipino, won his first US PGA title at the Texas Open in April after 147 tour starts and took aim at his second when he began on the back nine.

He made a par putt at the 10th from just outside seven feet but couldn’t duplicate the feat from the same distance at 12 and made bogey. Spaun answered with birdie putts from just inside 12 feet at 13 and just outside seven feet at the par-5 16th.

Spaun rolled in a birdie putt from just outside five feet at the first and chipped inches from the cup at the par-5 third to set up a tap-in birdie to seize the lead.

Spaun found a bunker off the seventh tee on his way to a bogey, but made a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth and closed with another solid par putt.

“Took what the course gave me,” Spaun said. “I worked on some good things in the past couple of weeks that are starting to pay off. Got a nice feel with my swing and just trusting it. And the putter is working, too.”

Straka birdied four of the last five holes to shoot 66.

“Hadn’t played great coming into this week,” Straka said. “But that’s golf. You’re going to have the ebbs and flows and just go with it.”

Merritt sank an eagle putt from just inside 15 feet at the par-5 16th to shoot his second straight 65.

McCarthy, chasing his first PGA title, birdied three of the first four holes then holed out for eagle from 153 yards at the par-4 sixth.

“As I hit it I knew it was good. I didn’t know it was going to be that good,” McCarthy said. “Always nice to have a bonus hole out like that.”

McCarthy found water on his approach at 18 and closed with a bogey to shoot 65.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy missed the weekend after a 69 to stand on 139, one over the cut line.

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