Memorial Tournament
Memorial Tournament
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Azinger birdies way into lead

Paul Azinger reeled off five straight birdies on the back nine Friday on his way to a 67 and the second-round lead in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. His two-day total of nine-under-par 135 put him a shot ahead of Vijay Singh, who posted the day's best round of six-under 66.

Tiger Woods, looking to become the first three-time winner of this event, shot 69 for a share of third place at seven-under 137 with Colonial winner Sergio Garcia and first-round co-leader Chris Smith.

An early rain held up play for two hours Friday morning, leading the second round to be suspended due to darkness at 8:50 p.m. (et) with just one group left on the course. Those three players will return to complete the round Saturday at 8:30 a.m. (et), with third round to follow at 11 a.m. (et).

Two-under for the round before the rain delay, Azinger came back with bogeys at the sixth and ninth after driving into the rough on both holes.

"[The delay] might have taken a little bit of the momentum away," said Azinger, who also failed to take advantage of good birdie opportunities at the 11th and 12th.

Azinger began to reap the rewards of fine shot-making starting at the 13th, where he knocked a wedge to eight feet for birdie. Another wedge to four feet at 14 gave him two in a row, then a driver off the fairway at the par- five 15th led to a two-putt birdie for the lead at seven-under par.

He continued his run with a seven-iron to 15 feet at 16, followed by a final birdie from 12 feet at the 17th. Azinger secured his lead with a 10- foot par save at the last.

Back in 1993, Azinger holed out from a bunker on the 72nd hole to win the Memorial by one shot over Corey Pavin and two over the late Payne Stewart. Azinger spoke during a ceremony honoring his fallen friend on Wednesday, and afterward found it easier to concentrate on winning for a second time at Muirfield Village.

"It was after I gave that talk that I was able to finally gear in and focus," said Azinger, who admitted he was very nervous before his speech. "My Wednesday practice round was a nightmare. But after the ceremony I went out and hit balls and got a lot accomplished."

Azinger, who hasn't played on the PGA Tour since the Worldcom Classic in mid-April, is seeking his 13th career victory and his first since last year's Sony Open in Hawaii.

If recent history is any indication, Azinger should feel fairly confident heading into the weekend, as the last three 36-hole leaders have gone on to win the Memorial.

Prowling just two strokes back is two-time defending champion Woods, who with a win this week would become the first player in 21 years to win a PGA Tour event three years in a row.

Tom Watson captured the Byron Nelson Classic from 1978-80.

Woods took control in last year's second round with a 63. This time around, the world's top-ranked player posted a good score that could have been much better.

After finding a greenside bunker for a bogey at the third, a hole he double-bogeyed in round one, Woods stung a two-iron to five feet but missed the putt for eagle at the par-five fifth. He was off the mark on a six-foot birdie putt at the next hole, but birdied the seventh and added two more on a bogey-free back nine.

Singh, the winner of the weather-shortened event in 1997, went without a bogey for his entire round on Friday. Four of his six birdie putts were holed from between 10 and 20 feet.

Scott Verplank, who shot 66 on Thursday to share the first-round lead with Smith, birdied 13, 15 and 16 to get to eight-under on Friday. However, he closed with back-to-back bogeys to join Joe Ozaki, Robert Allenby, Jim Furyk and Stuart Appleby at minus-six.

Tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who added a one-over 73 to his opening 75, is in line to miss the cut by one stroke.


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