Veteran Ken Duke fired an 8-under 63 Friday to grab a share of the second-round lead at the Nationwide Tour’s annual Omaha birdie-fest known as the Cox Classic. Duke’s bogey-free afternoon put him at 13-under 129 and tied for the 36-hole lead with Scotland’s Russell Knox, who carved out a 6-under 65 at Champions Run.
Seven players -- including Mathew Goggin, the Nationwide Tour’s leading money-winner this year -- share third place at 12-under 130. Joining Goggin, the 1999 champion, is J.J. Killeen (64), winner of last week’s Utah Championship. Also in the mix are Australian rookie Adam Blyth (65), first-round leader Tommy Biershenk (68), Monday qualifier Mike Lavery (66), Travis Hampshire (65) and Justin Bolli (64).
Another nine players are jammed together at either 11 under or 10 under, which translates to 18 players within three shots of the lead.
Knox, winner of the Chiquita Classic near Cincinnati three weeks ago, played his final six holes in just 1 under par but had done enough damage early in the round to grab the clubhouse lead. The 26-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., resident leads the field by following the golfer’s mantra of ‘fairways and greens.’
“That’s what I really work on -- hit the fairway and hit the green,” he said. “If you can hit 75 percent on both of them and putt halfway decent, you’re always going to be making cuts and hopefully have a chance.”
Knox has hit 25 of 28 fairways and 35 of 36 greens in regulation to lead the field in both categories.
“The driver is the best club in my bag and so from there any golf course is somewhat easier,” he said. “As of right now I’m hitting the ball maybe a little better than normal and holing some putts.”
Knox needed 30 putts in Thursday’s opener and 31 on Friday but still is in solid position to earn his second win of the year and lock up a berth on the PGA Tour next year.
Duke is trying to get back to the PGA Tour, where he earned more than $4 million during the 2006-07 seasons. The 42-year-old has three top-25 finishes in 14 starts this season but is only No. 91 on the money list following a tie for 37th last week in Salt Lake City and thinks his game is heading in the right direction after altering his putting stance.
“I changed the way I was setting up,” he said. “I think I worked my way into a rut that I didn’t know I was doing.”
Duke located some instructional paperwork from several years ago when he was working with Bob Toski, who helped him enjoy his best years on tour.
“I kind of went back to that and it just kind of clicked,” he said. “I felt like my right arm was too far out and I tried to get it tucked back in. It worked for my putting and it worked for my ball-striking.”
--A total of 68 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 6-under 136. This year’s cut matched the tournament record set last year.
--The seven-stroke distance between the leader and the cut also matches the shortest distance in tournament history. Only seven strokes separated the leader (-12) and the cut (-5) in 2006.
--Luke Hickmott withdrew prior to the start of the second round. Brenden Pappas withdrew during the second round due to a back injury.
--Ryan Spears eagled the par-4 18th hole with an 8-iron from 155 yards at the 440-yard closing hole. In the previous 15 years of this event, there have been only four other eagles at No. 18. The last person to do it was Robert Streb in the third round last year.
--Monday qualifier Mike Lavery ran off a string of five birdies in a row as he made the turn. Lavery, a 2004 Cal-Irvine grad, shot a 5-under 30 on the front to get to 12 under. He played the back nine in even-par 36. This is the fifth time that Lavery has been a Monday qualifier in this event. He missed the cut in 2004 and 2005 and tied for 50th in 2006 and tied for 49th in 2009. This is also Lavery’s 14th career start on tour (6 cuts made) and all have come through open qualifying. His career best finish is a tie for 30th at the 2007 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
--Marco Dawson bounced back from four mid-round bogeys to finish with five birdies in his final eight holes. Dawson shot a 3-under 68 and is at 9 under par through 36 holes.
--Dan Woltman had the only eagle of the day at the 315-yard, par-4 ninth hole. Woltman was in the second-to-last group of the day and his 30-foot putt gave the remaining fans 45 minutes to cash in on the $1 beer promotion at the hole.
--Andrew Buckle had a 5-under 30 on the front nine that included seven birdies and one double bogey.
--Gary Christian carded a 9-under 62, the day’s low score. Christian opened with a 1-over 72 and was tied for 129th after the first round. His bogey-free effort moved him to 8-under 134 and a tie for 26th.
--Scott Gardiner ran off a string of seven consecutive birdies early in his round. Gardiner’s streak started at No. 4 and ended at No. 10. His seven in a row is the best on the Nationwide Tour this year, topping the mark of six straight shared by three players -- including Gardiner, who had a half dozen at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open in June.
--Gardiner’s string of seven consecutive birdies was one shy of the tournament’s all-time mark of eight, set by Jason Gore (Nos. 3-10) during the fourth round in 2005. Gardiner had gotten to 9 under par with his seventh straight birdie but then stumbled with back-to-back double bogeys to fall to minus-5. He needed a birdie at the par-5 17th hole to get back to 6 under and make the cut on the number.