(Reuters) - American journeyman Jason Dufner rolled in a 30-foot eagle putt on his final hole to grab an early one-shot lead in Friday’s second round of the New Orleans Classic in Avondale, Louisiana.
Seeking his first victory on the PGA Tour after twice losing out in playoffs last season, Dufner carded a flawless seven-under-par 65 at the TPC Louisiana to post a 12-under total of 132.
Britain’s Russell Knox, a rookie on the U.S. circuit this year who has made only two cuts in eight starts, was alone in second after firing a superb 64 to tie the course record.
Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers also shot a 64 and was a further stroke back at 10 under, level with three-times major winner Ernie Els (68).
The 35-year-old Dufner, with his distinctive pre-shot waggle, was among several players who took advantage of relatively calm morning conditions before the breeze began to pick up.
He birdied four of his first seven holes and picked up another shot at the par-five 11th before setting up his spectacular eagle at the last with a five-wood from 236 yards.
“I had just a really good number for my five-wood to get somewhere on that green,” a smiling Dufner told reporters.
“Then I had a putt that was down-grain and breaking to the left with the grain so that was a nice way to finish the day.”
Dufner, beaten in playoffs for last year’s Phoenix Open and also the PGA Championship in Atlanta, believes he is becoming much more comfortable when in contention.
“There are a lot of different things that go into winning besides hitting the golf ball, so I’ve been trying to think about what I can do better mentally, what I can do better emotionally out there,” he said.
“Maybe, this will be the week. I’ve had a lot of really nice finishes here on this golf course and feel pretty comfortable playing this golf course.”
British world number two Luke Donald rebounded from his opening 73 with a bogey-free 65, covering four holes around the turn in five under to finish six strokes off the lead.
”It was certainly not quite as breezy as it was yesterday afternoon,“ Englishman Donald said. ”The wind didn’t really pick up until 16 ... so I had a good six holes without any breeze and made a couple of birdies.
“It’s nice to post a low number and get back into the mix.”
Overnight leaders Ken Duke and Cameron Tringale, and Masters champion Bubba Watson, who clinched last year’s New Orleans Classic in a playoff, were among the late starters.
The cut was projected to fall at two under with former major champions Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley among those in danger of missing out.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Julian Linden