Atwal Takes the Lead Down in the Bayou

Arjun Atwal used a second round 68 to take the lead by one heading into the weekend.

Arjun Atwal PuttingThe India-born Arjun Atwal fired another solid round Friday in New Orleans to put himself in great position to win his first PGA Tour event. He had six birdies and two bogeys en route to his 68. Atwal was tied for the lead after the first round with Chris DiMarco but now finds himself atop the leaderboard all on his own. He leads J.J. Henry by one shot heading into the weekend, and DiMarco and Tim Clark are three shots back at eight under par. Lucas Glover sits at -7 and rounds out the top five going into Saturday’s action.

Vijay Singh, who won last week in Houston and is also the defending champion this week in New Orleans, shot a 71 on Friday and remains near the top of the leaderboard in striking distance. The other notable at the top of the leaderboard is Padraig Harrington, who also had a so-so round of 71 to stay in the hunt. These two will both be looking to go low tomorrow on “moving day” to put pressure on the leaders.

Chris DiMarco, who held a share of the lead after the first round, had it to -10 before carding a double bogey on the finishing hole. “I have to give that to lack of knowledge of the golf course,” DiMarco said. “For some reason, I think that right side that you can get to that far bunker out there. I’m not long enough to get to that bunker. I tried to take a little more off than I can chew. I thought it was going to fly into the bunker and it didn’t even get close.” Tim Clark, the quiet but solid South African, shot a solid 69 to also finish up in good position. He had four birdies and one bogey on his second round.

The big guns are lurking a few shots back, but the man who finished closest to Atwal was J.J. Henry. Not only is he just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend, he also had the lowest round Friday with his 67. Just like yesterday, he had six birdies compared to only one bogey and is sitting in good shape after two rounds. Henry has had a very rough start to 2005, making only six cuts in eleven events. His best finish was a tie for 26th at the BellSouth Classic.

Arjun Atwal also had his best finish at the BellSouth Classic, where he lost in a four-way playoff to the eventual winner Phil Mickelson. He also had a tie for 16th at Pebble Beach, and that experience will surely help him stay near the top of the leaderboard this weekend. He was very pleased after his first two rounds in New Orleans. “I didn’t hit it too well in the first few holes, when there was no wind,” Atwal said. “But I got it up and down a few times, just steady stuff. And as the wind started to pick up, I kind of started to focus a little bit better and hit it closer and made a few putts.”

Friday was also “cut-day” for some, including a few big names in the world of golf. John Daly, who lost in a playoff last week to Vijay Singh, had rounds of 75 and 77 to miss the cut by more than a few. David Toms, who has struggled a little here lately, once again showed inconsistency this week and never really got anything going. He shot 76 on Thursday and followed that up with a 75 on Friday. Joe Ogilvie was the runner-up to Vijay Singh last year in New Orleans, but he shot a 75 on “cut-day” to finish at +3. He will not be hanging around this weekend, as the cut ended up being +1. Other notables who did not make the cut include Lee Janzen, Bob Tway, and 2003 PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel.

My pick for this week’s tournament was Davis Love III. He shot even par in the first round and followed that up with a steady 70 on Friday. He is sitting nine strokes off the lead going into the weekend. Joe Ogilvie was my “sleeper” pick, and as I mentioned earlier, he won’t be around at all this weekend at the TPC of Louisiana.

The weather for the weekend is still up in the air, as there is a 50% chance of thunderstorms for tomorrow. There is a slight chance of rain on Sunday morning, but things should be clear for the final round. If the weather is bad tomorrow, the players may be forced to play extra holes on Sunday or possibly even be in store for another Monday finish. The Zurich Classic of New Orleans can be seen on CBS both Saturday and Sunday from 3-6pm ET.

Here is a current look at the leaderboard going into the final two rounds.

Pos  Player             Tot    R1    R2    
1    Arjun Atwal        -11    65    68    
2    J.J. Henry         -10    67    67    
T3   Chris DiMarco       -8    65    71    
T3   Tim Clark           -8    67    69    
5    Lucas Glover        -7    69    68    
T6   Vijay Singh         -6    67    71    
T6   Richard S. Johnson  -6    70    68    
T6   Hank Kuehne         -6    69    69

Photo Credit: © Mike Erhmann/WireImage.

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