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Blixt turns heat back up, shares lead at Shriners

For about a month, Jonas Blixt was as hot as anyone else on the PGA Tour.

So hot that the Swede overcame a slow start and a two-month break from golf after hurting his left ribcage in early June and still made the FedEx Cup playoffs in late August.

And with the season winding down, the 28-year-old Tour rookie has put himself in contention in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin. Blixt carded a 7-under-par 64 for the second straight day and enters today’s third round tied for the lead with Brendon de Jonge (66) at 14-under 128.

“I’ve got a hot putter right now,” Blixt said. “I’ve been working on my ball striking the last few weeks, but I’m making a lot of putts.

“I like this course. It’s got a little give to it. The greens are pure, and it’s not very long.”

First-round leader Ryan Moore cooled off considerably with a 3-under 68 that left him one-stroke off the lead. Moore tied the course record with a first-round 61.

“It was a good, solid round,” said Moore, a former UNLV star and 2004 U.S. Amateur champion. “I definitely would have liked to have seen a few more of those putts drop, but I like my position going into the weekend.”

So does Blixt, who has recovered nicely from a poor start to the season. During the first three months, he missed the cut in five of nine events, and his best finish was a tie for 22nd in late January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

“I had changed my irons because they were getting worn out,” Blixt said. “I don’t like changing my equipment, but the new irons didn’t match my game that well and I was struggling.”

So Blixt decided to go back to his old irons. Suddenly, his game elevated several notches, and in four weeks he had three top-10 finishes, including a tie for third at the Byron Nelson Championship. His worst finish was a tie for 13th at the Zurich Classic.

He climbed from 140th in the FedEx Cup rankings to 53rd. Of the $993,401 he has made this year, $744,480 came during that four-week stretch. Then he injured the left ribcage, and after missing the cut at The Memorial, he took 10 weeks off.

“Nothing was torn or broken,” Blixt said. “But I had stretched the rib muscles on my left side, and I needed to rest.”

He made it into the FedEx playoffs and finished tied for 20th at the Deutsche Bank. Although he failed to advance, that set him up for Las Vegas, and he is hoping to hoist the championship trophy Sunday.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” he said. “Once I leave the golf course, I leave the tournament there as well. But it would be a thrill to win. That’s why you practice and what you work toward.”

Blixt wasn’t kidding. When he finished his media obligations, he didn’t head to the driving range or the putting green. He was meeting with family and friends to go shopping and then swimming.

While Blixt was relaxing, de Jonge was pursuing the outright lead. But he missed a 4-foot birdie putt at the par-5 No. 9, his final hole.

“I’ve driven the ball well, and that’s been the key for me so far,” de Jonge said. “I’m giving myself chances, and that’s all you can ask.”

De Jonge, from Zimbabwe, refused to blame the beat-up greens at the end of his round for his failure to make birdie.

“The greens were still running smooth,” he said. “I just hit it bad.”

With two players who have never won sharing the lead and a local favorite on their heels, there will be no lack of interesting storylines in today’s third round, which begins at 9 a.m.

“It’s going to be fun,” said de Jonge, who will play in the final group with Blixt and Moore. “But as well as I’m playing, I’m not going to get too confident. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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