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Garcia shoots 65 to set pace in Houston

(Reuters) - Sergio Garcia served up another reminder that he is back in top form heading into next week's Masters when he took the second round lead at the $6.4 million Houston Open on Friday.

The Spaniard was in control of all facets of his game as he reeled off an eagle and five birdies for a seven-under-par 65 in breezy morning conditions at the Golf Club of Houston.

Garcia recorded a 12-under 132 halfway total, one stroke ahead of American Matt Kuchar and four in front of the rest of the field.

"I was able for most part of the day to drive the ball fairly well and my iron play was quite good and short game worked nicely again, so I'm very happy with that," Garcia, 34, told Golf Channel after sinking a six-footer to save par on his final hole.

"It was the kind of day you needed (to be in control) because there were a lot of tight tee shots and tough second shots into the greens.

"I was a little fortunate a couple of holes, was able to make a couple of really nice pars and kept my round going."

Nearly 15 years have passed since a teenage Garcia catapulted into the spotlight in an enthralling battle with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah outside Chicago.

Garcia finished runner-up to Woods there but is still seeking his elusive breakthrough major victory.

TOP FORM

Mediocre putting and some personal issues hampered his results for several years, but he has regained top form with a vengeance the past seven months, finishing inside the top 20 in his past 12 starts worldwide, including two victories.

Nobody is playing better heading to the Masters next week, but Garcia is not about to make any bold predictions.

"Every week is different but I've just got to try to feel the same way, believe in my ability the same way and hope that things happen," the Spaniard said.

Kuchar, who shot 67 in the afternoon, was tied for the lead until he bogeyed the difficult final hole, the lone blemish on his card.

Like Garcia, he also is in sparkling form heading to the Masters, though he has something to prove over the weekend after a disappointing fade-out at the Texas Open last week, where he led midway through the final round before finishing fourth.

Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson was six strokes off the pace after carding a 70, while Swede Henrik Stenson ended the day one shot inside the cutline after returning a 72.

World number three Stenson will go to the top of the world rankings if he wins on Sunday, but that seems a remote possibility as he trails Garcia by a distant 11 strokes.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina,; Editing by Gene Cherry/Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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