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      Varner leads after 36 at Rex Hospital Open

    • Harold Varner went bogey-free 65 on Friday’s round to take the lead into the weekend. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)Harold Varner went bogey-free 65 on Friday’s round to take the lead into the weekend. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

    RALIEGH, N.C. – Harold Varner carded a 6-under-par 65 Friday and moved into the second-round lead at the Rex Hospital Open. Varner stands at 10-under 132 after two trips at TPC Wakefield Plantation and one shot in front of red-hot Californian Max Homa (68), winner of last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am.

    Camilo Benedetti (65), Scott Gardiner (66), Peter Tomasulo (67), Hunter Haas (68) and Daniel Berger (67) are tied for third place at 7-under 135, three off the pace. Ten players are at 6-under 136 and share eighth place, including Duke grad Ryan Blaum (69).

    The 23-year old, big-hitting Varner is ranked second on the Tour in average driving distance and first in greens in regulation but  says it is some newfound accuracy with his driver and some improved putting that have him in front.

    “I’m hitting it just as far but it’s going a lot straighter,” said Varner, who now lives in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. “I’ve been struggling and hitting it right the last month or so. I’ve been focusing on getting the ball to turn over a little bit instead being a snap hook.”

    Varner came into the week ranked No. 118 in driving accuracy but appears to have cut down his range of mistakes from the tee. The biggest change is on the greens where he was No. 94 but is up to T9 this week.


    Harold Varner III takes clubhouse lead at Rex Hospital Open
    • Round Recaps

      Harold Varner III takes clubhouse lead at Rex Hospital Open

    “I worked on my putting with my instructor on Monday and just focused on fundamentals, like the set-up,” he said. “You don’t want to miss before you swing.”

    Varner didn’t miss much as he grabbed the lead for the first time in his rookie season. After chatting with the media following his round, the East Carolina grad had his mind on fishing with his good friend Ben Kohles (T36) and not on what lies ahead this weekend.

    “He (Kohles) has a big pond in his backyard. I haven’t been fishing in so long but it was nice to catch some small ones,” he said. “I don’t really think ahead too much. I’m not really a good planner. When the time comes (Saturday) I’ll be ready. All I need is 30 seconds. Pick a target and hit it.”

    While the carefree Varner chases his first title, the equally laid back Homa is looking to join an elite list of back-to-back Tour winners that includes Kohles, who accomplished the feat with his first two Tour starts in 2012.

    Homa opened with a 65 that left him in solo second place, which is where he’ll be as the weekend approaches.

    “I thought yesterday was about as low as I could have shot and today was about as high as I could have shot,” said Homa after closing the back nine even-par courtesy of 17 putts. “The putter went cold. I hit some good putts but I couldn’t get any to fall. It would have been nice to get a couple back but you can’t make them all.”

    Homa couldn’t make any on the back nine despite hitting eight of nine greens.

    “You can’t really bicker at 3-under,” he said. “It could have been 8 (under) but it could have been even so I’m really happy.”

    Harold Varner III interview after Round 2 of the Rex Hospital Open
    • Interviews

      Harold Varner III interview after Round 2 of the Rex Hospital Open


    * Friday weather: Mostly sunny. Wind NW 6-12 mph. Overnight low 63. Daytime high 81.

    * Sebastian Vazquez withdrew during the round due to a back problem.

    * A total of 76 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 1-under 141. The cut comes at the low-65 players and ties.

    * This is the fourth consecutive year the 36-hole leader has been at 10-under par. Only Chesson Hadley (2013) went on to win the tournament.

    * The number of players to make the cut (76) matches the highest in tournament history – there were also 76 in 2004 when the cut was the low-60 players and ties.

    * Third-round play will be in twosomes off the 1st tee. Times will run from 7:21 a.m. to 1:10 p.m.

    * Varner is from Gastonia, N.C., which is about 180 miles west of Raliegh and 30 miles west of Charlotte.

    * Varner's 7-under 65 was the lowest round of his rookie season. Varner carded a 5-under 66 in the final round of last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, S.C.

    * Harold Varner had made four cuts in seven previous starts on the Web.com Tour this year. His best finishes have come in his last two starts – a T6 at the weather-shortened WNB Golf Classic in Midland, Texas three weeks ago and a T13 at last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am. He started the week No. 39 on the money list.

    * Harold Varner is in first place for the first time in his brief Web.com Tour career. His previous best standing after any single round on Tour came at the 2014 WNB Golf Classic where he was T5 after the second round.

    * Andres Gonzales was cruising along nicely for most of the second round and had hit every green through 16 holes and was 8-under par for the day and 9-under for the tournament. The former UNLV standout missed the green at No. 17 and made double bogey and then missed the 18th green and made bogey. He finished with a 5-under 66 and is at 6-under 136 (T8) at the halfway point.

    * Andres Gonzales and Kevin Johnson both ran off a string of five consecutive birdies today. Gonzales had his streak on holes 12-16 while Johnson had his on Nos. 4-8. The tournament record for most birdies in a row is six – first set by Chris Baryla in the third round in 2009 and then matched by Brian Stuard in the second round in 2011.

    * Kevin Johnson shot the low round of the day, a 7-under 64. Pretty impressive for the 47-year-old, who is making his first competitive start since Web.com Tour school ended in mid-December.

    “I think the goal initially was to knock the rust off and then make the cut. The cut was definitely the goal this morning,” said Johnson, who is T18 heading into the weekend. “It’s different than playing at home with your buddies. Today the pressure was off. It was either play a real good round or you go home and sit around for another three months. I haven’t been playing this good at home. On my home course I haven’t been shooting 64!”

    * Roberto Diaz (T8), another rookie on Tour this year, is making only his fifth start of the year and the sixth of his career. Diaz, born in Mexico and now living in Myrtle Beach, made his first career start on Tour at this event in 2012 as a sponsor exemption (M/C). The 27-year old Diaz is a 2009 graduate of the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

    * Camilo Benedetti leads the field with two eagles this week. Benedetti eagled the par-5, 4th hole in round one and the par-5, 9th hole in round two. Benedetti now has 7 eagles for the year, which ties him with Derek Fathauer for the most on Tour this season.

    * Carlos Ortiz, the Tour’s leading money winner, cruised through the first 24 holes bogey free but hit the wall with a triple-bogey 6 on the par-3, 16th hole (his 7thof the day). Ortiz was the last player in the field of 156 to make a bogey (or worse) this week.

    * First-round co-leader Carlos Ortiz suffered his worst day of the year and posted a 4-over 75 that dropped him into a tie for 35th place.

    * First-round co-leader Colt Knost struggled to an 8-over 79 Friday and missed the cut. Knost hit 11 of 14 fairways today but managed to hit only 11 greens and totaled 35 putts on the day.

    * The Triangle area is well represented this week by players who either grew up or attended college in the area:

    Name Connection Score Standing
    Ryan Blaum Duke 67-69-136 T8
    Albin Choi N.C. State 70-70-140 T51
    Jack Fields UNC 72-72-144   
    Brad Fritsch Campbell 72-65-137 T36
    Grant Houser (am)
    Campbell 74-80-154 M/C
    Ben Kohles Cary, NC 71-68-139     
    David Mathis Campbell/Raleigh, NC 70-73-143
    Len Mattiace Wake Forest
    71-73-144 M/C
    Fernando Mechereffe N.C. State 75-73-148 M/C
    Cameron Percy TPC Wakefield
    Kyle Reifers Wake Forest 70-71-141 T62
    Alex Smalley (am)
    Wake Forest HS 76-71-147 M/C
    Darron Stiles Pinehurst, NC 73-70-143 M/C
    Harold Varner III
    East Carolina 67-65-132   1st
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