Ben Martin, chasing his first PGA Tour title since 2014, fired a six-under-par 66 on Friday, stretching his lead to two strokes at the Corales Puntacana Championship.
The 34-year-old American, whose only PGA victory came eight years ago in Las Vegas, stood on 12 under 132 after 36 holes at the Dominican Republic resort.
American Alex Smalley fired a 65 to stand second on 134, one stroke ahead of compatriots Adam Schenk and Chad Ramey with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, fifth on 136.
Martin, who led by one after 18 holes, started on the back nine with three consecutive birdies, sandwiched bogeys at 13 and 16 around a birdie at 15 and closed with birdies on four of his last six holes.
“I birdied the first three and birdied 6, 7 and 8 to finish, so it was a nice way to start and a nice way to finish,” Martin said.
Most of the world’s top golfers are at the WGC Match Play Championship in Texas this week, leaving the best of the rest to compete for a title in the Caribbean.
World No 565 Martin has leaped to the top thanks largely to his putter.
“I’ve just been in a great mindset,” Martin said. “This week, the putter has been nice. When you’re confident with the flat stick, it takes the pressure off every other part of your game. Everything kind of feels easy.”
Rookie Smalley followed a double-bogey start at the par-four 10th with seven birdies and an eagle to leap into second.
“I knew I had a lot of chances after the first hole,” Smalley said. “I hit a good shot in on 11 and made the putt for birdie, then got up and down on 12 for birdie, so I got the double back pretty quick.
“That calmed me down a decent amount. Then I just tried to make life easy on myself coming in.”
© Agence France-Presse