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Akshay Bhatia extends his lead to 5 shots at the windy Texas Open

Akshay Bhatia managed to overcome a difficult start Friday in the Valero Texas Open by finishing with a 2-under-par 70. This helped widen his lead to five shots and raised hopes of securing the last spot in the Masters next

Akshay Bhatia managed to overcome a difficult start in the Valero Texas Open on Friday by finishing with a 2-under-par 70. This helped widen his lead to five shots and raised hopes of securing the last spot in the Masters next week.

Bhatia initially had a three-shot lead and began with a 15-foot birdie putt, which seemed to suggest that it might be an easy day. However, this was not the case.

He then made bogey from the bunker on the next hole, three-putted for bogey from a long distance, and failed to birdie the par 5s on the back nine, resulting in him losing the lead.

However, the 22-year-old regained his composure with birdies on the par 5s on the front nine at the TPC San Antonio and a birdie on the par-3 eighth. Despite the challenging wind and dropping challengers, he ultimately extended his lead.

Bhatia scored 11-under 133. Denny McCarthy, who played in the afternoon, came within four shots of him until a bogey on the par-5 18th dropped him to 6-under 138, along with Peters Township native Brendon Todd (72) and Russell Henley (69).

“It was stressful, for sure. Wasn’t my best stuff,” Bhatia said. “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.

“It was good to get the under-par round.”

Rory McIlroy had another steady day of pars, scoring 70 to stay competitive at 139.

McIlroy, in his final event before attempting to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National, has made three birdies in each of the opening two rounds. His only bogey was on the seventh hole, his 16th of the round, when he missed a 5-foot putt.

“I could stand here and say I wish I was a few shots better and missed a few putts and whatever, but it was tricky conditions,” McIlroy said. “Akshay is playing really well, but apart from that, no one’s really lighting the world on fire. Just keep grinding away.

“I’ve only made one bogey over two days, which I’m really pleased with,” he said. “Would have been nice to make a few more birdies but pretty happy with the last two days.”

Bhatia won the Barracuda Championship last summer, but it was played the same week as the British Open and it did not get him into the Masters. Augusta National is holding one spot for the winner of the Texas Open.

Tommy Fleetwood (69), Webb Simpson (67) and Monday qualifier Peter Kuest (71) were among those at 140. Of the top nine players, only Bhatia, Todd, Simpson and Kuest are not already in the field for the Masters.

Jordan Spieth, a former Masters champion, won’t have to leave early for Augusta. Spieth, who has missed his last two cuts, rallied with a 68 to not only make the cut but move into a tie for 10th, eight shots behind Bhatia.

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