Henry shoots personal-best 61 to open four-shot lead

Friday, February 3rd 2006, 8:53 am
By: News On 6

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ J.J. Henry birdied a tournament-record seven holes in a row en route to a 10-under-par 61 Friday and a four-stroke lead halfway through the FBR Open.

The 30-year-old from Fairfield, Conn., was one stroke off the tournament-record round of 60, and he bettered his previous career-best round by three strokes. His string of birdies on the ninth through 15th holes fell one shy of the PGA Tour record of eight in a row.

``I guess you could say I was in that zone,'' Henry said.

Never a winner on the PGA Tour, Henry was at 14-under-par 128 through 36 holes in front of an announced crowd of 117,540, a record for the tournament's second round. The throng is expected to swell to more than 150,000 on Saturday in an event that draws the PGA's biggest, most boisterous crowds.

``It was just one of those days,'' Henry said. ``The hole looked big for some reason.''

Tour-rookie J.B. Holmes, 22, shot a 7-under 64 and was four back at 10-under 132. First-round co-leader Steve Lowery and Paul Stankowski were at 9-under 131.

Mark Calcavecchia, a three-time winner of what used to be called the Phoenix Open, tied with David Toms and Ryan Palmer at 8-under 132.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson double-bogeyed his final hole, the par-4 ninth, to fall to 7-under 131.

The powerful Holmes, who played for Kentucky in college, had a 365-yard drive in his second PGA event en route to an eagle on the par-5, 552-yard 15th hole. The Phoenix area has gone a record 107 days without rain, so he and the other big hitters on the tour sent the ball sailing down the dry fairways.

``It's perfect,'' Holmes said. ``I like it a lot. If I make putts, then I'll shoot low scores. I was hitting my driver good, had a lot of wedges in my hand. It makes courses easier when you've got a lot of wedges in your hand.''

Henry, whose best finish is a pair of seconds in 2001, considers putting his biggest golf weakness, and he has a history of starting a PGA season slow. He missed the cut in his first two tournaments this year.

But it was his putter that was sizzling in the bright sunshine of the par-71, 7,216-yard layout at the Tournament Players Club in north Scottsdale.

Henry sank five putts of 26 feet or longer. The longest was a 29-footer to save par on the first hole.

``It definitely set the tone for the day,'' he said.

During his record birdie streak, he made putts of eight feet on the ninth and 10th, 16 feet on the 11th, 28 feet on the 12th, two feet on the 13th, 27 feet on the 14th and 26 feet on the 15th.

By then, he couldn't help thinking about a possible round of 59.

``After I made that birdie putt on 15, I looked at my caddie and said, `If we birdie the last three holes, there's that magic number,''' Henry said.

He managed one more birdie, nailing a 27-foot putt on the par-4 17th, then wrapped up the best round of his career with a par on the 18th.

Henry said he went from a conventional putter back to a belly putter for this week's tournament trying to get a little more speed.

``Even the last couple of weeks, my line was good,'' he said. ``It was more the speed.''

Henry loves the big galleries that pack the sprawling course, and he looks forward to the atmosphere he'll experience in Saturday's third round.

``I'm in a great spot obviously and I'm looking forward to the challenge,'' he said. ``If you play well, you've got 150,000 people screaming your name. It could be a lot of fun tomorrow, no doubt.''

For the second year in a row, John Daly withdrew early from the tournament. He walked off after nine holes on Friday, citing illness. He was 3-over 74 on Thursday and had shot a 9-over 40 through eight holes. He finished the ninth by putting twice with his wedge, then walked straight to his car.

Daly also missed Wednesday's pro-am round, telling PGA officials he had food poisoning. Last year, Daly withdrew after shooting 10-over-par in the first round.

Steven Bowdich was disqualified for an incorrect scorecard. It was his second disqualification in four tournaments this year. He was disqualified for playing a wrong ball at the Sony Open.