Willis, Couch tied for the lead in Tampa

Posted March 18, 2011, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified March 21, 2011, at 7:59 a.m.

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Sergio Garcia is not thinking about winning, which is becoming tougher to do with each bogey-free round at the Transitions Championship.

Garrett Willis and Chris Couch were tied for the lead when another gorgeous day at Innisbrook ended. Willis had a 4-under 67 in the still of the morning to put his name atop the leaderboard for the second straight year — this time on a Friday, not a Thursday. Couch had a 64 in the afternoon as the breeze began to stir, making a par from the trees on the 18th to tie for the lead.

Even so, it was tough to ignore the name one stroke behind them.

Garcia is among the most talented players in golf, although his enthusiasm waned so much last year that he decided to take a 10-week break from competition. This is his first time playing in America in seven months.

Passion no longer seems to be an issue.

The 31-year-old Spaniard looked moderately disgusted when birdie putts turned away. He produced a fist pump normally saved for a Sunday when he holed a chip for birdie from behind the 13th green.

About the only thing that went wrong in his round of 66 was when he felt something on the back of his cap as he walked off the 14th tee early in his round. Turns out it was a bee that stung him on his middle finger, although he got the stinger out and all was well.

A par save on the final hole felt even better.

“Just keep trying to do the right things and see what we finish,” he said. “I’m not worried about winning. I just want to keep building confidence into my head, and these rounds obviously help. If we go out there tomorrow and shoot another round, beautiful. If not, that’s fine. I’ve just got to make sure that I keep building up.”

Willis and Couch were at 9-under 133, one shot clear of Garcia and Webb Simpson, who had a 67 in the afternoon. Paul Casey, who led after the first round, had to settle for a 71 and was two shots behind along with Justin Rose (65) and Gary Woodland (68).

Innisbrook is one of the toughest tracks in Florida, although it was vulnerable in such ideal weather. It’s not so much the number of players who produced low scores, rather the high scores that were absent.

As a result, the cut of 1-under 141 was the lowest in tournament history. Going into the weekend, only eight shots separate first from worst, a rarity on the PGA Tour.

Willis is making his own kind of progress.

A year ago, Willis opened with a 65 to take the first-round lead, then followed that with a 77 and missed the 54-hole cut. He followed his opening 66 with a solid 67 Friday to finish his round atop the leaderboard.

“It’s a lot cooler to lead after the second round than it is the first round,” Willis said.

Willis lives about 30 minutes away, and the biggest surprise was not seeing his name on the leaderboard, but not seeing the trees sway.

“To have two days like this — this calm — is crazy,” Willis said. “I think we’re in for a pretty windy weekend, because there’s no way it’s going to continue.”

Couch has missed the better part of two years with a shoulder injury, and he wears bracelets to help with his blood flow — a couple on each side, figuring he needs all the help he can get with his bad health.

The game rarely looked better.

Couch shot a 29 on the back nine of the Copperhead course, and even his shot into the trees left of the 18th fairway was not a problem. In fact, he hit out of the trees to about 10 feet and had to settle for par.

“I feel like I’m good enough to win,” he said.

Along with being tied for the lead, he was equally thrilled that he plays Saturday with Willis, a close friend and frequent practice partner. They practiced together earlier this week, but this time there will be a little more at stake.

Even so, the field is as bunched as ever.

Brandt Snedeker, in his first tournament since becoming a father, had a 64 to lead a group at 6-under 136 that included 17-year-old Matteo Manassero, two-time PGA Tour winner Mark Wilson and Peter Hanson, who had a peculiar day with the putter.

Another shot back was a group that included a trio of U.S. Open champions — Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover and defending champion Jim Furyk — while U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein made 14 pars in his round of 69 and was at 3-under 139.

Uihlein holed out a 40-yard bunker shot on No. 5 for eagle, then holed out from the fairway for eagle on No. 7. He had two bogeys coming in, but easily made the cut in his second PGA Tour start.

Hanson would not have thought a 67 was in the cards today.

“Other than the four-putt on my first hole, I made a lot of nice birdies,” he said.

He had about 25 feet for birdie on the 10th hole and left it 4 feet short. He rammed his par putt about 4 feet by the cup, and missed the next one coming back. Hanson was so frustrated that he decided to change to a cross-handed grip for his fourth putt. That went in, so he stuck with it. After that four-putt double bogey, he took only four putts over the next five holes.

Among those missing the cut were three-time major champion Padraig Harrington and John Daly, who failed to make it to the weekend for the fifth time in six tournaments this year.

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