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Golf: Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter share early lead at Firestone

Tommy Fleetwood was as familiar with Firestone as most regular American golf tournaments, mainly because of the iconic water tower 120 feet tall in the shape of a golf ball on a red tee. He said the Bridgestone Invitational was among his father’s favorite tournaments.

“He came last year because he always wanted to have a picture in front of the Firestone golf ball, so I’ve always watched this one,” Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood is playing pretty well in it, too.

The 27-year-old from England capped off a clean round Friday with a six-iron into three feet on the par-five fifth hole, a 25-foot birdie putt two holes later and a seven-under 63 that gave him a share of the early lead with PGA champion Justin Thomas and Ian Poulter.

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“My irons, I just tended to hit exactly where we were picking the spots and I holed a few putts,” Fleetwood said. “You got days like that where it’s going well and you’ve just got to make the most of them.”

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were among those who played in the afternoon.

The South course at Firestone has had two good days for scoring.

Poulter opened with a career-best 62 in PGA Tour-sanctioned events on a day when the scoring average (68.37) was the lowest for a first round at Firestone in the 19 years of this World Golf Championship. He followed with a 67 that featured two bogeys but no big complaints.

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Joining them at 11-under 129 was Thomas, one week before he defends his title in the final major of the year.

Bogey-free Pornanong leads Women’s British Open after second round

Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand is standing out at the Women’s British Open for more than just her pink golf ball.

The 97th-ranked player has yet to drop a shot in two straight rounds of five-under 67 that will give her a one-stroke lead heading into the weekend at the year’s fourth major.

While first-round leader Minjee Lee and Mamiko Higa encountered problems down the stretch at a rainy Royal Lytham to give up two-shot leads on Friday, Pornanong played a steady hand and put her pink ball in all the right places — explicitly, out of the many bunkers that define the course.

The 28-year-old Thai missed a 10-foot putt for birdie in front of the clubhouse on the 18th green but that didn’t get her down. She was 10 under par overall.

“I’ve had a game plan,” Pornanong said. “I try to plan every shot, every hole.”

It’s given her a great chance of winning a first major title, and claiming a first victory on the LPGA Tour. Her last win was on the Asian Tour in January 2015 and she has only one top-10 finish all year.

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Pornanong’s only top-10 at a major was a tie for seventh at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014.

Top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn was seven shots back after rounds of 71 and 70, No. 6 Shanshan Feng (71-71) was one stroke further back, and No. 2 Inbee Park (76-74) missed the cut.

Only six players were inside five shots of Pornanong. They have pedigree, though.

In a three-way share of second place on nine under is Lee, who was clear at 12 under before she double-bogeyed No. 16 and dropped another shot at No. 17 to post a 70.

Lee, the Australian at a career-high ranking of No. 8, was runner-up on the Gullane links in the Ladies Scottish Open last week.

Home favorite Georgia Hall (68) was in the tie for second place along with Higa, who was leading by two strokes on 11 under when she lost her ball in a gorse bush at No. 17 and wound up with a double-bogey 6.

Third-ranked Park Sung-hyun, who won the Women’s PGA Championship last month, is lurking in sixth place on seven under after rounds of 67 and 70. Seventh-ranked Ryu So-yeon, a two-time major champion, is on six under after two rounds of 69. Brooke Henderson of Canada aced the par-three ninth hole on her way to a 70, which put her in a six-way tie for eighth place on 5 under.

Jerry Smith shoots 64, leads by two at 3M Championship

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Jerry Smith made three late birdies to shoot a bogey-free eight-under 64 on Friday and take a two-shot lead at the 3M Championship.

Smith started on the back nine at the TPC Twin Cities and birdied three of four holes around the turn. He added three straight birdies on Nos. 6-8. His best finish this year is seventh at the Boca Raton Championship in February, his only top-10 of the season.

Kenny Perry, Lee Janzen, Peter Lonard and Glen Day were two strokes back. None of the four has won this season. Lonard, who was added to the field on Tuesday, made a hole-in-one on the 177-yard fourth. Janzen and Perry eagled the par-five 18th.

The event could provide an opportunity for a breakthrough victory because many of the tour’s top players — including Miguel Angel Jimenez, Bernhard Langer, Jerry Kelly and David Toms — are skipping the tournament after last week’s Senior British Open at St. Andrews. After 26 years, the tournament will be replaced at the TPC Twin Cities by the PGA Tour’s 3M Open next July.

Campbell charges four shots clear at Fiji International

Ben Campbell of New Zealand shot a six-under 66 Friday to take a four-stroke lead after two rounds of the Fiji International.

Campbell is 11-under overall at the European Tour event, four ahead of Australia’s Andrew Dodt, who returned a 70 at the Natadola Bay layout.

Dodt, who played in the best of the conditions in the afternoon, narrowed Campbell’s lead to three shots before dropping his first stroke of the week at the par-four 14th. One behind him are fellow Australians Jarryd Felton (71) and Terry Pilkadaris (68).

Dodt said those who played in the afternoon missed a chance to close the gap on the leader, who had to contend with windier morning conditions.

“I didn’t make a birdie on the back nine which is a bit frustrating considering the wind completely dropped,” he said. “I am quite surprised that no one did go low.”

Campbell said the conditions he played in were better than his first round, though the wind direction caught him by surprise.

“I think it was one of the first times I’ve ever played it in these conditions,” he said. “So, the game plan actually changed a little bit. It was in the total opposite direction. There were a couple of holes I was hitting two-iron instead of driver.” South Africa’s Ernie Els had a two-under 70 and was in a tie for 20th place.

Akshay Bhatia chips in for eagle to defend Junior PGA title

Akshay Bhatia holed a 40-foot eagle chip on the final hole Friday to successfully defend the Boys Junior PGA Championship title.

The 16-year-old Bhatia, from Wake Forest, North Carolina, ran in the slow-moving, sidewinder for a four-under 68 and a one-stroke victory at Valhalla Golf Club. The first two-time winner in event history, Bhatia raised his club in celebration and followed with a fist-pump. The eagle followed a bogey on No. 17.

“To make the chip was unreal,” Bhatia said. “It was one of the clutchiest moments of my career.”

Bhatia finished at 11-under 277. He won last year at a record 22 under at The Country Club of St. Albans in Missouri.

Tommy Stephenson, of Carlsbad, California, was second. The 17-year-old closed with a 66.

Bhatia earned an automatic spot on the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team that will face Europe at Disneyland Paris in September. Captain Allen Wronowski also named Canon Claycomb, Michael Thorbjornsen, Ricky Castillo, William Moll and Cole Ponich to the team. They will join Yealimi Noh, Rose Zhang, Lucy Li, Rachel Heck, Erica Shepherd and Alexa Pano on the co-ed squad.


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