Clemens inspires Gore to tie for Houston Open lead
HUMBLE, Texas -- Jason Gore got a boost from the Rocket in the Houston Open.
T-1. Estes (-6)
Defending champion Stuart Appleby, Bubba Watson, D.J. Brigman and Texans Bob Estes and Jeff Maggert also were 6 under after two rounds, and Hunter Mahan, Tommy Armour III and Tom Byrum were one shot back.
Gore, who has a Boston Red Sox jersey at home that Clemens once autographed, first formally met his boyhood idol two years ago at the ADT Skills Challenge, and the two became friends.
"He's always been my hero," Gore said.
Clemens, still undecided on whether he'll return to baseball, played in a pro-am Wednesday and also gave Gore a T-shirt that read "Tough All Day" across the front. The inspired Gore marked the letters "TAD" on his ball before teeing off Thursday and shot a 2-under 70, his best round in more than a month.
"It's just one of those things," Gore said of the simple message. "No matter how bad things go, you've got to just stay tough."
The mantra fit the blustery conditions Friday at the 7,457-yard Tournament Course at Redstone, hosting the event for the second year. Players backed off putts and avoided tricky pins all day because of the unpredictable gusts.
"I can stay as patient as anybody out there and I knew it was playing tough," said Estes, who followed an opening 67 with a 71. "It's tough to get the ball in play on a lot of holes, to even have a chance to play a conservative approach shot."
Appleby followed a 66 with a 72 on Friday, failing to break 70 for the first time in six rounds at the new Redstone course.
"The wind was a real factor," Appleby said. "I didn't create many opportunities and when I did, I wasn't putting good enough."
Watson's 67 was the lowest round of the day. He sank birdie putts of 24 and 30 feet and two-putted from 50 feet on the par-5 fifth after blasting a 350-yard drive.
The left-handed Watson leads the tour in average driving distance (313.5 yards) and is still learning to harness his power.
"When I'm at home, I hit driver everywhere. It doesn't matter where it goes," said Watson. "Sometimes, I get carried away, especially if I play bad the hole before. I always want to hit driver because I'm mad and ready to go."
Watson missed seven of 14 fairways on Friday, but hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation. He needed only 28 putts, down from 33 on Thursday.
"I'm trying to learn the game, trying to learn what makes me good," said Watson, whose best finish is a third-place tie in Tucson last year. "I'm a lot better at this point than I was last year at this point. I just want a 'W.' Just get me a win."
Brigman, who finished fourth on the Nationwide Tour last week, knocked a 3-wood to six feet for an eagle on the par-5 13th, but also had two bogeys he blamed on the wind. Like Estes, Brigman grew up in Texas and thinks he knows how to play through the gusts.
"Anytime we're in Texas, I feel pretty comfortable," Brigman said. "Wind is my friend. I'm kind of doing well with that this week."
Maggert should feel even more at home. He lives 30 minutes away in The Woodlands, the leafy Houston suburb that hosted the event between 1975-2002.
Maggert finally feels healthy again after slipping on ice and cracking a rib in Colorado in December. He aggravated the injury in Phoenix in February and hasn't made a cut in three starts since returning.
"I feel like I'm just not getting comfortable with my golf swing," Maggert said. "No pain in the rib whatsoever."
Tournament organizers said the players will tee off an hour early Saturday and half the field will start on No. 10 because thunderstorms are forecast for the afternoon.
Vaughn Taylor was tied for the lead before dumping two drives in the water on the par-4 5th hole and taking a quadruple bogey. ... The cut fell at 145, 1-over par. Notable players who missed it include Rocco Mediate (146), Jose Maria Olazabal (146), John Daly (148), Steve Elkington (148), Brad Faxon (149), Paul Azinger (151) and Michael Campbell (155). ... Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, who live in Houston, watched the tournament in folding chairs behind the 16th green.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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