Rio Grande, Puerto Rico – Matt Jones fired a five-under 67 on Friday to move three strokes clear of the field after two rounds of the Puerto Rico Open.
Jones, who shared the first-round lead with George McNeill, sits at 11-under- par 133 after his bogey-free round. McNeill carded a two-under 70 on the Composite Course at Trump International Golf Club, and is alone in second at eight-under 136.
Former British Open winner Todd Hamilton (69) and Ryo Ishikawa (67) hold third place at minus-seven. With most of the top players in the world in Florida for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Ishikawa is the highest-ranked player in this week's field, at No. 53.
Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open winner, was in second place after Thursday, but struggled to a one-over 73 in Friday's round. He is in a tie for 16th, seven shots behind Jones at four-under 140.
Jones has never won on the PGA Tour, and had struggled in his first three events this season, finishing in a tie for 40th before missing the cut twice.
But Friday, the Australian climbed to the top of the leaderboard by picking up a stroke every few holes. He started at the 10th tee and made the turn at eight-under after making birdies at 14 and 18.
Jones then birdied the second and fifth, and closed his round with another to complete the 67, which followed his 66 from the day before. In his first three events this year, Jones went below 70 just twice in nine rounds.
Jones said he hit the ball better Thursday, but credited his success to good putting and chipping.
"My putting was terrible last year and that's why I'm in this situation right now, but I actually fixed it last week and it's coming along nicely," Jones said.
Because he finished outside the top-125 on the money list last year, Jones is only partially exempt. But Friday, he said it could work to his advantage.
"I've played out of this category multiple years out here, so I look at it as a positive because it makes me focus on the tournaments I have to play in," Jones said. "[Whereas] if you get into it a rut out here knowing you've got a tournament to play next week and you can take a week off mentally. So it makes you stay focused, and hopefully it works this week."
Like Jones, McNeill made five birdies during his second round, but found himself trailing because of bogeys. He birdied the par-five second, but gave the stroke back at the fifth and started to go above par with another bogey at the eighth.
However, the American used a strong back nine to stay in contention. He carded three birdies in a four-hole stretch from the 11th, and while he bogeyed the 15th, McNeill got that shot back at the last.
Ishikawa sank three consecutive birdies from the 14th to kick-start his round. A bogey at the 18th, his ninth hole, put him at four-under around the turn, but three birdies during a clean front nine allowed him to move up the leaderboard.
"As I progressed...towards the end, the wind got stronger and the conditions got tougher," Ishikawa said. "But under the strong wind conditions, I understood the difficulty of the course better. So I appreciate the design of the course more now."
Hamilton, who started his round on the back nine, had his momentum reined in by a pair of bogeys. He was one-under for his round after dropping a stroke at the second, but birdies at three and seven helped him recover.
Behind Ishikawa and Hamilton, there is a six-way tie for fifth at six-under- par 138. Boo Weekley (68) is in that group along with Andres Romero (67), Daniel Summerhays (70), Roberto Castro (69), Kevin Stadler (69) and Kevin Kisner (70).
NOTES: Curtis and Hamilton are two of seven former major champions in the field. Also in that major group are two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen (four-under 140), 2003 PGA Champion Shaun Micheel (minus-three), and Angel Cabrera (even-par 144), who earned victories at the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters. The two others -- 2002 PGA Champion Rich Beem and 2001 British Open titlist David Duval -- missed the cut...Defending champion Michael Bradley fired a one-under 71 and is tied for 37th at minus-one.