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  • Akshay Bhatia Opens Up Big Lead At Valero Texas Open, Masters Dream Within Reach

Akshay Bhatia opens up big lead at Valero Texas Open, Masters dream within reach

Akshay Bhatia is on course for a dream victory - and a spot in the Masters - after opening up a five-shot lead at the halfway mark of the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open.

Bhatia overcame a slow start to rally with a pair of late birdies for a two-under-par 70 at TPC Santonio's Oaks Course that proved enough to extend his lead to five strokes on 11-under 133.

Despite starting with a promising 15-foot birdie putt, Bhatia suffered setbacks including a bogey from the bunker and a three-putt from long range. That saw his overnight lead evaporate as he struggled to capitalize on the back nine par 5s.

But the 22-year-old regrouped with birdies on the front nine's par 5s, along with another on the par-3 eighth. With his closest competitors faltering in the windy conditions, it allowed him to build up a big lead.

Denny McCarthy, who teed off in the afternoon, trailed by four shots until a late bogey on the par-5 18th dimmed his hopes, leaving him tied at 6-under 138 with Brendon Todd (72) and Russell Henley (69).

"It was stressful, for sure, wasn't my best stuff," Bhatia said. "I felt like I struggled a lot off the tee today, golf swing didn't feel great with any of the longer stuff, but iron play was still phenomenal, wedges were good, made some nice putts.

"It was good to get the under-par round."

Rory McIlroy stayed consistent, carding a 70 that included three birdies to keep himself in contention at 139.

His only setback came with a bogey on the seventh hole, his 16th of the round, where he missed a crucial five-foot putt.

"I could stand here and say I wish I was a few shots better and missed a few putts and whatever, but it was tricky conditions," McIlroy said. "Akshay is playing really well, but apart from that, no one's really lighting the world on fire. Just keep grinding away.

"I've only made one bogey over two days, which I'm really pleased with," he said. "Would have been nice to make a few more birdies, but pretty happy with the last two days."

Tommy Fleetwood (69), Webb Simpson (67), and Monday qualifier Peter Kuest (71) were part of the group at 140. 

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