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Knost takes 2-stroke lead at Harbour Town

Colt Knost is comfortable here.

Growing up in Pilot Point, Texas, Knost played nearby Lake Kiowa Golf Course — a short, tight layout. He didn’t pick up the game until age 14 but learned to love playing the precise shots that are serving him well this week at Harbour Town Golf Links.

The 26-year-old fired a 5-under 66 Friday at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, taking advantage of a favorable tee time and tamer conditions than Thursday to get to 9 under after two rounds. He leads by two shots over Carl Pettersson.

Two-time champion Boo Weekley is another shot back at 6 under after matching Knost’s 66.

Knost is halfway to one of his goals, halfway to winning a PGA Tour event after turning professional as the country’s top-ranked amateur in 2007, when he won the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Amatuer in consecutive months. He won twice on the Nationwide Tour in 2008, finished No. 6 on the money list to earn his PGA Tour card the first time. He lost his card in 2009, earned it back on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and lost it again after the 2011 season.

“I felt like I was ready for this level out here, and apparently I wasn’t,” Knost said. “I don’t know if I just didn’t continue with the same work ethic or not, or I didn’t have the belief, but it was a struggle for a few years out here. But now I feel like I’m starting to get my game back where I like it.”

More benign conditions greeted golfers Friday after the opening round played the second toughest of any on tour this season. Scoring was more than a stroke better Friday — 71.92 after players averaged 72.96 Thursday.

Defending champion Brandt Snedeker fired off five consecutive birdies on his way to a 30 on the front side. He was 2 over on the back and is tied for seventh.

Former University of Georgia golfer Harris English, who won on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur in 2011, posted a second straight 68 and is tied for third with Weekley at 6 under. English holed out from a bunker on No. 8 for birdie after coughing up a shot the previous hole.

The conditions allowed players to better attack a firm golf course, English said.

“We’ll see if it picks up this afternoon, but it was perfect this morning,” he said.

Charley Hoffman, in danger of missing the cut through 11 holes Friday, closed with four consecutive birdies to shoot 65. That matched Pettersson for the low round of the tournament until Michael Bradley posted 64.

Pettersson said his iron play hasn’t been sharp in recent years but has improved in recent weeks. He hit his approach within 5 feet on his final two holes.

“It certainly is nice to be right on top of my game,” Pettersson said. “You obviously want to win, but all you can do is give yourself a chance.”

Knost crafted a bogey-free round, creating a cushion with birdies at No. 1 and 2 after making the turn.

Knost cried after the final hole of PGA Tour Qualifying School this past December, thinking a double bogey at the last cost him his card.

But a tie for 27th was good enough to earn his ticket. And he’s back on the big tour, working with sports psychologist Neale Smith to help maintain his consistency.

Knost has made seven of nine cuts to start 2012.

“I got kind of lucky there at Q-School, and I was emotional about it, and I’ll be the first to admit it,” Knost said. “My caddie said, ‘This is going to make you better.’ And I feel like it has.”

Christian happy with choice

Gary Christian’s heart is not in San Francisco.

“I would say I definitely made a very wise decision,” Christian said after his 3-under-par 68 on Friday.

That decision was whether to wait and see if he got in the Heritage — he was third on the alternate list — or take the long flight to San Francisco where he knew he had a spot waiting in the Nationwide Tour’s TPC Stonebrae Championship.

Given the weather near San Francisco, where cold rain and fog had kept the Nationwide event from finishing its first round late Friday afternoon, and Ben Crane’s withdrawal from the Heritage on Monday, Christian made the right choice. His 3-under total means he’ll be playing the weekend.

“I probably hit it better yesterday,” Christian said. “But I made it up and down around the green and probably holed a few putts better than I did yesterday. It was the same round as yesterday. It was just that I threw putts away yesterday and I didn’t today.”

Only a bogey on No. 9, his final hole, kept Christian from the top 10.

Like all golfers with limited status, Christian is used to the routine of deciding between playing a lesser event or waiting and hoping to play in a PGA Tour event.

“It’s tough on you. It’s all a gamble,” Christian said. “Obviously, you’d rather play on the PGA Tour, where you’re playing for a purse of $5 or $6 million, but being the first alternate standing on the tee at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon doesn’t get you very far.”

Christian, a former Auburn golfer from Carshalton, England, is playing Harbour Town for the first time and loves the course.

“It’s great to have to have all facets of your game going,” Christian said. “The person who wins this tournament won’t have a weakness in their game this week. And that’s the way golf should be.”

And Christian has Crane to thank for his first trip to Hilton Head Island.

“I hope he’s enjoying his week off.”

Two for one

The pressure was all on Charlie Wi.

Unfortunately, the Westlake Village, Calif., native wasn’t able to come through for his group, which has landed a pair of aces over the first two days of the Heritage.

It started on Thursday, when Billy Mayfair aced the 202-yard par-3 seventh hole with a 5-iron. It continued on Friday, when Bob Estes aced the 183-yard par-3 seventh hole with a 6-iron.

“Obviously, when I made mine, it was Charlie’s turn next, but he didn’t get one,” said Estes, who is tied for seventh thanks to a 4-under 67 Friday. “The back left pin on No. 7 where Billy made his, you’re hardly ever going to see a hole-in-one there and he made it.”

Estes said he couldn’t recall ever being in a group where two golferw made a hole-in-one in a week.

“I don’t think that happens very often,” he said.

As for how Estes managed his ace? Just a simple coaxing of the ball seemed to do the trick.

“I told it to go in and it did,” he said. “So it listened.”

Carolina cut

Six players with South Carolina ties were cut following Friday’s round at the Heritage, including Clemson amateur Corbin Mills and former Bluffton resident Kris Blanks.

Mills and Blanks both finished at 146 (+3) along with Mt. Pleasant’s D.J. Trahan, and Tommy Biershenk and William McGirt of Boiling Springs.

Greenville native Bill Haas was also cut after finishing 6 over.

Five golfers with Palmetto State ties made the cut, highlighted by Tommy Gainey at 2 under and Matt Bettencourt of Duncan, who is even at 142. Kyle Stanley (+1), Lucas Glover (+2) and Beaufort’s Mark Anderson (+2) also made the cut.

Seventy-one golfers in all made the cut at 145, which featured 46 from Friday’s morning wave and 25 from the afternoon wave.

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