• Big names stalk Steel, Kuchar

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    WASHINGTON: Brendan Steele and Matt Kuchar made the most of calm conditions on Friday (Saturday in Manila) to share the halfway lead at the Memorial, where Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth remained in the hunt heading into the weekend.

    Steele backed up a first-round 65 with a five-under-par 67 at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.

    Kuchar carded a second straight 66 to share the lead on 12-under 132. They were one stroke in front of Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, who posted a 66, and American Gary Woodland, whose 65 was the low round of the day and included six birdies and an eagle.

    “A lot of things are going right,” Steele said. “Obviously, conditions are really good. So there are a lot of good scores out there.”

    A wet weekend forecast — the norm at the rain-plagued Memorial — could keep scores low on a receptive course.

    “The conditions are still there for the taking,” said Kuchar, who won the tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus in 2013. “It’s as easy as I remember this place playing, even though greens still fast.

    “You can get in the wrong spot, but you don’t have to worry too much about the wind. It’s fun to be out there playing and making some birdies around this place.”

    In a marquee duel, McIlroy and Spieth elicited roars throughout the afternoon, combining for 14 birdies.

    Northern Ireland’s McIlroy carded a 66 to finish five shots behind the leaders in a tie for 12th, while Spieth had a 68 and was another stroke back in a tie for 22nd.

    “I felt like I putted nicely,” said McIlroy, who tied for the second-lowest round of the day.
    “I feel like my pace has been a little bit better, which was something I wanted to work on. That’s an improvement, and I’m happy with that.”

    World number one Day of Australia, a Muirfield Village member, was in the group with McIlroy on 137 after a 71 that included five birdies and four bogeys.

    “If I didn’t have a short game, I probably would have shot high 70s. It would have been close to 80,” said Day, who is seven-for-seven in sand saves this week and hit four fewer fairways and five fewer greens compared to Thursday.

    Phil Mickelson was also on 137 after a 69 that included seven birdies.

    “I feel like I’m playing better than I’m scoring, but I had a lot of fun today and I was able to finish up with three birdies, which kept me within striking distance,” said Mickelson, a five-time major winner who has not won since the 2013 Open Championship.

    “I feel like there’s a hot round out there, and I hit a lot of good iron shots these past two days, and I hit a lot of good iron shots this past week. I feel like I’m going to give myself a lot more birdie opportunities on the weekend.”

    AFP

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