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Rickie Fowler pulls three shots clear

Rickie Fowler gave himself a chance to be the next youngster to win on the U.S. PGA Tour, shooting a 6-under 66 on Friday to tie the 36-hole record at the Memorial Tournament and take a three-shot lead.

The 21-year-old Fowler ran off three straight birdies late in his round, giving him a good buffer from second placed Justin Rose heading into the weekend at soggy Muirfield Village.

Fowler was at 13-under 131. That tied the tournament record set by Scott Hoch in 1987.

Youth has been all the rage on the PGA Tour over the last month, with Rory McIlroy winning at Quail Hollow two days before his 21st birthday, and Jason Day winning the Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago at age 22.

They both turned pro three years ago. Fowler didn’t turn pro until last summer, yet he already has lost in a playoff and finished one shot behind in the Phoenix Open in February.

“Just being in contention the few times I have over the last eight months, this is by far the best I’ve felt,” Fowler said.

Defending champion Tiger Woods is starting to feel a little better, too.

Woods was just inside the projected cut line when he started, and with his lackluster play on a course that can penalize errant shots, there was some question whether he would be around for all four rounds in his final event before the U.S. Open.

Those questions didn’t last long. He birdied three of the opening five holes, then ran off three straight birdies on his front nine to offset the few mistakes for a 69. He was at 3-under 141, 10 shots behind, but still playing.

“I hit more good shots today than I did yesterday, and really putted well,” Woods said.

Phil Mickelson, who has another chance to become No. 1 with a victory, was headed in that direction with a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch on the front nine, only to give it back by missing one par putt after another on the back nine. He closed with two straight birdies for a 71 that put him at 6-under 138, still in the game but seven shots behind.

“It’s frustrating for me because I played very well and didn’t shoot the number I thought I should,” Mickelson said.

Jim Furyk missed a short birdie putt on the final hole and had to settle for a 67, leaving him in the group at 9-under 135 that included Tim Petrovic, who earlier in the day matched Fowler’s 66.

The second round was stopped twice by storms and rain for a total of one hour. Because of more bad weather in the forecast, the players will go off Saturday morning in threesomes from both tees.

No matter when or where they start, all of them will be trying to catch Fowler, who has the largest 36-hole lead on the course since Kenny Perry also led by three in 1991.

“He’ll dictate the rest of the tournament, or at least for tomorrow,” Furyk said. “If he goes out and plays well, it will be tough to catch him. If he goes out and shoots another 6 or 7 under, he’s going to have a huge lead. If he doesn’t he’ll let some other guys back in the tournament.”

Day had a 69 and was at 8-under 136, along with Spencer Levin, who had a 68. British Open champion Stewart Cink, getting closer each week to where he wants to be with his game, turned in a 67 and was at 7-under 137.

Fowler, no matter what happens this week, has to go through 36 holes of U.S. Open qualifying on Monday, having to failed to crack the top 50 in the world ranking last month.

That he even had a chance to move into the top 50 at such a young age shows his potential.

“We all know he’s got the talent to do it,” Woods said. “It’s just a matter of him doing it.”

Rose was among the co-leaders after the first round with Fowler and Geoff Ogilvy, who tumbled to a 77. He finished off his round with a 7-iron that caught the backstop on the 18th green and rolled to easy birdie range, putting him in the final group.

Rose, who tied for fourth in the 1998 British Open when he was 17, knows what it’s like to be young and carefree.

“I know he’s a cool guy,” Rose said of Fowler. “I’ve seen the way he plays—pretty fearless. Going to enjoy it.”

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