SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- Robert Allenby has been looking for a spark in his game, a little something extra to turn good rounds into good scores. His 8-under 63 in the second round of NEC Invitational on Friday might do the trick.
The rail-thin Aussie had an eagle and five birdies on his final seven holes at Sahalee Country Club to set the course record and take a share of the lead with Steve Lowery in the $5 million World Golf Championship event.
"I haven't played anywhere near the way I played last year or the year before, when I won twice each year," Allenby said. "But things turn around, and I've been patient."
Lowery started his round the way Allenby finished his, with birdies on four of his first five holes. He missed two short par putts on the back nine - one from 18 inches - and finished with a 65 to join Allenby at 10-under 132.
Retief Goosen (68) was another stroke back, while 22-year-old Justin Rose of England had his second straight 67 and was at 134.
Tiger Woods' hopes of becoming the first player in 75 years to win the same event four years in a row will require two low scores on the weekend.
Birdies were followed by bogeys, putts lipped out and Woods was resigned to a 1-under 70, which left him six strokes behind. That's the widest margin he has faced after any round in the three-year history of the NEC Invitational.
"It wasn't pretty," Woods said. "You can't make too many mistakes on this golf course."
He can't afford to fall too far behind.
While there is no cut in the 78-man field, 48 players were at par or better, and Woods had 16 players in front of him with two rounds to go.
"You have to shoot low, because the guys are going to continue to shoot low," he said.
Allenby took off with a 3-iron into 10 feet on the par-5 11th, birdied four straight holes from inside 10 feet, then finished with a splendid sand wedge from thick rough behind a Douglas Fir blocking his view to the 18th green.
Playing the ball back in his stance and hooding the face of the wedge, he bounced it under the branches and onto the green to about 5 feet for birdie.
"If I feel comfortable, I'll go at the flag," he said. "If I commit to every shot, which pretty much on the back nine I did, I'm going to hit some pretty good shots. And that's what I did today."
The previous course record was 65, held by Greg Kraft and Nick Price at the 1998 PGA Championship (par 70), and matched Thursday by Goosen and Toshi Izawa.
It was Allenby's lowest competitive round on tour - at least over 18 holes.
His best score in the record books is a 54 in the 1994 Chemapol Trophy Czech Open on the European tour. He opened with rounds of 58-54 and still finished seven strokes behind.
Turns out there was so much ice on the course that only 14 holes were used.
Allenby was nearly flawless on all 18 of the holes at tree-lined Sahalee. He missed only two greens in regulation, one day after hitting all 18.
Allenby is a streaky player, who can be tough to beat when he's hitting his driver in the short grass and his irons crisply. The 63 was not completely out of the blue. He played well last week at Hazeltine, finishing in a tie for 10th, but was undone by an 8 on the par-3 eighth hole in the third round.
"I don't care what I shoot, just as long as I win," Allenby said.
Still, it's plenty crowded at the top.
Nineteen players were within six strokes of the lead going into the final 36 holes, a list that included Phil Mickelson (69-135).
Lefty was within one stroke of the lead until getting a bad bounce on the 17th green, putting 50 feet and big ridges between him and the hole. He three-putted for bogey, then dropped another shot at the final hole after recovering with a low hook out of the rough, under the cedars and just through the fairway.
"There were some low scores out there if you play well," Mickelson said. "I got out of it what I deserved."
At least he got past the 17th hole with only a bogey.
With the hole location to the right, close to the water, the par-3 proved disastrous to Jerry Kelly and Notah Begay, who each rinsed three balls in the water. Kelly took three putts once he got to the green and made 10, while Begay escaped with a 9.
Davis Love III, among the leaders on the front nine, had a double bogey from the water on the 17th, shot 41 on the back nine and was eight strokes back after a 74.
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