Ben Martin shoots 67 to stretch lead at Zurich Classic

After breaking the TPC Louisiana course record by two strokes late Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Ben Martin didn’t have time to respond to all of the congratulatory text messages he received.

But one he got from Will Lucas, one of his buddies back home in South Carolina, made him laugh.

Martin, who had 10 birdies Thursday on his way to a course-record 62, said the text read, “Dude, nice playing. I haven’t made that many birdies all year.”

He didn’t have that many Friday morning, but six birdies and an eagle on his second trip around TPC Louisiana still produced a 5-under 67 and 36-hole score of 15-under 129 at the midway point of the $6.8 million event.

Martin’s 129 total was a Zurich Classic 36-hole record at TPC Louisiana, where players didn’t have to contend with wind for the second day in a row.

Returning to the course for an 8:30 a.m. tee time — just 13 hours after completing a dazzling opening round — Martin picked up where he left off with a birdie-eagle start.

That helped Martin, who shared the lead after two rounds at the RBC Heritage last weekend, take a three-shot advantage on Andrew Svoboda into the third round Saturday.

“He’s just playing unbelievable,” said former Tulane standout Michael Thompson, who’s tied for 12th at 137. “I played nine holes with him Tuesday, and he was just striping it. The ball never left the flag. Any time you’re that many under after two days, you’ve got a lot going right.”

Svoboda, who fired a 64 on Thursday to tie the course record before Martin bettered it, strolled in late Friday afternoon with a 68 and 36-hole score of 12-under 133. He had a chance to pull to within a shot of the lead with a birdie, but he dropped a stroke with a bogey 4 at the ninth hole — his final hole of the day.

Seung-Yul Noh, who is the only player in the field to have no bogeys after the first two rounds, and Robert Streb are tied for third at 11-under 133 after shooting 68 and 66.

Erik Compton and Peter Hanson are tied for fifth at 10-under 134. Compton shot a 68 on Friday, while Hanson, who opened with a 65 on Thursday, shot 69 in the second round.

Eighty-four players made the cut, which came at 2-under. The tournament will resume at 9:35 a.m. Saturday with threesomes off the first and 10th tees.

After a players-only party at Acme Oyster House and a quick shower Thursday night, Martin came back refreshed for his early tee time Friday.

Starting on the back nine, he nearly holed his approach on the par-4 10th and tapped in a 1-foot birdie putt. On the par-5 11th, he chipped in from 57 feet for an eagle and birdied No. 13 to get to 4-under for the day and 14-under through 22 holes.

“It was kind of nice to validate what I did (Thursday), getting off to a good start,” he said. “But being 14-under through 22 holes of a golf tournament was unfamiliar ground.”

Martin encountered a little trouble at the end of his front nine when he made a bogey 4 at the 17th hole, his first bogey of the tournament, and then put his tee shot on the par-5 18th into the water.

He took a double-bogey there to drop back to 11-under but bounced back with a birdie at No. 1. He added birdies at the fourth, seventh and ninth holes, capping his 67 with a 6-foot birdie putt at No. 9.

“I was 4-under through four holes and maybe kind of got ahead of myself on the last couple of holes on my first nine,” Martin said. “My caddie and I were walking down the first fairway, and I was like, ‘You know, (Thursday) I felt like I really stayed in the moment on every shot.’

“I don’t know if I had a talk with myself, but I was like, ‘All right, this is a new nine holes.’ It turned around like I’ve been doing … like I’ve been playing all week. I executed almost every shot like I wanted to on the last nine holes.”

Playing in the afternoon wave, Svoboda shot a 2-under on the back nine and added three birdies — including two at the seventh and eighth holes — before dropping a stroke on the par-3 ninth.

But he was hardly discouraged by the closing bogey, or by Martin’s low score.

“I played really, really well,” said Svoboda, who like Martin is seeking his first PGA Tour win. “That was a really good round he posted, but I was playing my game and shooting 4-under. I’ll take that.”

Noh carded a second straight bogey-free round and finished with a 4-under 68 after shooting a 65 on Thursday. He and Streb, who shot a 66 to go with his 67 on Thursday, are four strokes.

While only six shots separate the top nine players, most eyes will be on the final pairing of the third round Saturday: Martin playing with Svoboda and Noh, who will be trying to bring the 26-year-old Clemson graduate back to the field.

“I’ve got to go out there and try to make birdies,” said Svoboda, who’s never played in the final pairing on Saturday in a PGA Tour event. “Hitting a lot of fairways would be key for me. If I drive the ball well and putt well, I should be good.”