Two Australians, two qualifiers share halfway lead at Fresh Express Classic

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Published: Saturday, April 16, 2011 | 1:41 a.m.

A pair of Australians and a pair of Monday qualifiers share the second-round lead at the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae, the fourth stop on the 2011 Nationwide Tour schedule.

Aussies Mathew Goggin (66) and Andrew Buckle (69) are at 7-under 133 and tied for the lead with Scotland’s Russell Knox (68) and Californian Garrett Sapp (66).

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2011 FRESH EXPRESS CLASSIC

This is the third straight year the Nationwide Tour has played in Hayward, Calif., and the second in a row with Fresh Express as the title sponsor.

Another Australian, Matthew Giles (66) leads a group of four others only one shot back. Giles is joined by Scott Weatherly (66), J.J. Killeen (67) and Troy Kelly (66) at 6 under.

Four more players are two shots off the pace and another four are only three back heading into the weekend.

Tournament host Jerry Rice, playing as a professional for the second year in a row, fired an 82 Friday afternoon and will be on the sidelines for the final two days.

“I did so many good things this year that I didn’t do last year, even though the score doesn’t reflect that,” said Rice. “It was about being a little more patient and making putts when you’re not striking the ball that well.”

In contrast to Rice, Goggin is at the top of his game. Already a winner at this year’s season-opening Panama Claro Championship, the 36-year-old has hit 24 of 26 fairways at a course that features plenty of elevation changes.

“You’ve got Ripley’s Believe It or Not going on with the hills out here,” he said. “Your shot might look flat but it might swing from right to left because you’re standing on the side of a massive slope. It’s very confusing.”

There’s no confusion about Goggin’s goal for this year. His win in Central America in February came 11 1/2 years after his last victory on the Nationwide Tour and in between he spent much of his time on the PGA Tour.

“I’m trying to get as much out of every week as I can. Just finishing in the top 25 is not really my goal. The goal is to win three times and be No. 1 on the money list,” he said. “You’ve got to keep the intensity up. You can’t just let a few weeks or a few months roll by where you’re not really into it. You don’t get too many opportunities to win, at any level, so you have to take them seriously.”

Knox, who leads the field in greens in regulation, is quite serious about his chances as well. The 25-year-old has been playing mini-tour events since graduating from Jacksonville University four years ago and needed a birdie-eagle finish on Monday just to get into this event.

“I know I’m good enough to win. I feel I’m good enough to be on this tour. I just haven’t done it at Q-School to make it here,” said Knox, who tied for seventh at last year’s Knoxville Open. “I was talking to some people and their advice to me was to try more Monday qualifiers out here and try to make it this way.”

So far, so good for Knox, who grew up in Scotland and doesn’t mind when the temperatures struggle to break 60 as they’ve done most of this week.

“My caddie laughs at me because the colder it gets, the better I play,” he said. “The more clothes I have on, the better. I’m used to the cold and the wind.”

Buckle needed only 24 putts to shoot a 64 in Thursday’s opener, but required 31 for his 1-under 69 on Friday, and remains encouraged about his chances for victory.

“Actually, I felt like I hit the ball a lot more solid than yesterday,” he admitted. “I thought the wind was a bit tricky today. I was hitting solid irons but I didn’t make any putts. If I can start making some putts I might be able to shoot a couple more good rounds.”

Second-Round Notes:

--The four-way tie atop the leaderboard marks the most players tied for the 36-hole lead on the Nationwide Tour since the Rex Hospital Open in 2009. A total of 60 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at even-par 140.

--Third-round tee times will run from 9:21 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Play will be in twosomes off the first tee. Play is scheduled to finish around 6:30 p.m. PT.

--B.J. Staten (77) withdrew prior to the start of the second round.

--Friday’s second-round scoring average for the par-70 course was 71.441. The best rounds of the day were 5-under 65s turned in by Tommy Biershenk and Scott Dunlap.

--Nothing has really changed on the seventh hole, except for the distance. The hole played as a 557-yard par 5 the first two years of the tournament, but was shortened to play as a 469-yard par 4 this year. In previous years it was an easy par 5, and now it’s a difficult par 4. During the first two rounds this year, No. 7 has a scoring average of 4.232. Last year, the hole had a scoring average of 4.230.

--Gavin Coles struggled through the worst round of his Nationwide Tour career, posting a 12-over par 82. Coles has won four times over the years and has made 133 starts and posted 418 scores. His previous high scores of 81 have also come in the state of California – in the second round of the 2002 Bank of America Monterey Peninsula Classic and the first round of the 2009 Soboba Classic.