published Saturday, June 8th, 2013

English leads St. Jude Classic by two

Early leader Harris English studies his lie on the eighth hole during the second round of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament Friday, June 7, 2013, in Memphis.
Early leader Harris English studies his lie on the eighth hole during the second round of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament Friday, June 7, 2013, in Memphis.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MEMPHIS — Harris English is becoming more comfortable on the PGA Tour every week, and he feels right at home on TPC Southwind's Bermuda grass greens.

English shot a 6-under-par 64 on Friday to open a two-stroke lead in the St. Jude Classic. The 23-year-old former Baylor School and University of Georgia star had never had a piece of a lead on the PGA Tour until Thursday when he found himself tied with five others, including Davis Love III, after 18 holes.

He used a hot putter to roll in five birdie putts, holed out from 181 yards for eagle on the par-4 fifth and had only one bogey to finish the second round at 10-under 130.

"It's awesome to be in this position," English said. "I've worked very hard the last couple weeks and couple months to get in this position, and I feel like I'm ready and I feel like I've got a lot of good people around me to help me."

Shawn Stefani was second after a 65. Paul Haley II and Scott Stallings each shot 68 to reach 5 under. Love was tied with four others at 136 after a 70, and defending champion Dustin Johnson also had a 70 to come in at 137. Phil Mickelson was at 138 after a 67 in his final tuneup for the U.S. Open next week at Merion in Pennsylvania.

Only four players had rounds of 4 under or better on a near perfect day at TPC Southwind. Doug Labelle II and Scott Verplank each shot 66.

But English turned in the best round on a course playing very tough despite a temperature around 80 degrees -- very rare at this time of year in Memphis. Any wind came out of the north instead of the south. Combined with the small and firm greens, hitting the greens required precise shots. Hitting the fairways also is a must to control shots to the greens.

"Obviously, if he has another two days like the first two, it will be tough to catch him," Johnson said about English. "But I would say I look forward to being bunched throughout on Sunday coming down the stretch."

This is English's second year on tour after finishing his college career in 2011.

The 6-foot-3 English was still an amateur when he won on the Web.com Tour at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in July 2011, and he moved to the PGA Tour in 2012 and finished 79th on the money list. This year, he already has three top-10 finishes, including a tie for sixth at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

Love has kept track of English for years. English lives in Sea Island, and Love isn't surprised by how well he is playing.

"His game has really improved, and he's playing well and he's not afraid to shoot low scores," Love said.

Teeing off Friday morning, English started with three birdies in three holes, rolling in putts from 9, 10 and 17 feet. Then he had possibly the shot of the day on the par-4 No. 5 playing at 482 yards. After a 3-wood off the tee, he hit an 8-iron 181 yards from the fairway and watched the ball roll at least 10 feet before falling into the cup for eagle.

"I haven't holed out in a while," English said. "To make it on 2, probably the hardest hole on the golf course, is kind of unbelievable."

He dropped a 15-foot putt on the par-4 15th to become the first player in the tournament to reach double digits under par, and he added a 10-footer on the par-5 16th after hitting his shot from the rough just in front of the green. That birdie put him 11 under.

"I grew up on greens like this down in south Georgia -- fast Bermuda greens," English said. "I'm very comfortable on these type of greens. I know when it's going to be fast, and it's really fast. And when into the green, it's really slow. I have a good handle on the speed. That's really what helped me today. When you get the speed down on the greens, you can start making some putts."

At Baylor he helped win four Tennessee state titles, including an individual high school championship for himself. He won one of those titles at a course about an hour from Memphis. Also, he has friends in medical school in Memphis that he has been visiting with the past couple days.

"It does feel like home," English said.

The only hiccup in his round came on No. 18. He used his driver only twice Friday and stuck with his 3-wood off the tee but hit what he called his only bad shot of the day. The ball stopped near a drain. He wound up with a 30-footer and two-putted for his lone bogey.

"I'm still looking for my first win and still hungry to be the best and to try to get my first win," English said

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