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Mito Pereira edges ahead at Shriners midway point

It’s been five months since Mito Pereira stood on the tee at the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead at the PGA Championship. He put his tee shot in a creek, made double-bogey and finished one shot behind winner Justin Thomas.

That was the last time Pereira held a lead anywhere until Friday when he blitzed TPC Summerlin with an 8-under 63. The effort pushed Pereira to 12 under through two rounds of the Shriners Children’s Open and a one-shot lead over tour rookie Robby Shelton, who matched his 63, and a two-shot cusion over Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim and Maverick McNealy.

A huge pack of challengers is also within striking distance, with 25 players within five shots.

Pereira admits that he occasionally thinks about that fateful hole at Southern Hills, but for the most part it’s been set aside.

“It’s just way over there in the past,” he said of the PGA. “I’m just trying to get my first win here.”

Like Pereira and the Kims, many of the contenders are fresh off the Presidents Cup two weeks ago, with four members of the International team in the top six and six in the top 17 on the Shriners leaderboard.

Pereira doesn’t think that’s a coincidence, giving credit to team captain Trevor Immelman for the group’s solid play in Las Vegas.

“I think Trevor did a really good job with us, encouraging us how good we are, how good we play golf,” Pereira said. “So I think we carry that over here. Right now we’re just playing really good.”

Nobody played better than Pereira on Friday. He made nine birdies and one silly bogey when he three-putted from 20 feet on No. 7, his 16th hole of the day. The birdies came thanks to a dialed-in iron game, as he gave himself countless short birdie putts the entire day.

”I had a really good round overall. I hit driver well, irons really good,” he said. “I think I hit three or four shots inside three feet today. Solid on my putting.”

He’ll need that same approach to hold off a packed field giving chase, including Kevin Streelman, Cam Davis and Chad Ramey three back.

For the second straight day, Davis took advantage of the back nine, playing holes 13-17 in 6 under. One day earlier he played the same stretch in 4 under. And like his teammate, Davis believes the Presidents Cup experience has a lot to do with his results this week.

“It was so much fun being in that environment, but to actually have a few stretches there where I played some awesome golf, it’s one thing to tell yourself you can do it, but another thing to experience it,” Davis said. “It’s just a few more memories in the back of my mind whenever I’m trying to hit an important shot that I can do this.”

Si Woo Kim agreed that the gained confidence from the week has carried over.

“I think that really helps to start the season, and that’s why we’re playing pretty good,” Si Woo Kim said.

Tom Kim added that being in such a pressure-filled situation and playing well has long-term benefits. With a less stressful atmosphere in Las Vegas and the knowledge that any mistakes made will only hurt him and not a team, that allows him to relax on the course.

But there won’t be much relaxing with the names hovering near the top of the leaderboard. The group at 8 under is headed by Max Homa, already a winner three weeks ago in Napa, California, and Patrick Cantlay, who has a win, two runner-ups finishes and a tie for eighth in four previous appearances at TPC Summerlin.

The group at 9 under includes Streelman, a runner-up finisher in 2014 at this event, and Ramey, who held the 36-hole lead last year.

And it will be hard to ignore McNealy, the Las Vegas resident who has knocked on the door of his first victory a few times over the past two seasons. His fan support, easily identifiable with their Team MAV hats, is sure to grow on the weekend.

“It’s really cool for me to show them what I spend 365 days a year working on and what I dedicate my life to,” McNealy said of his supporters. “And it’s really fun to share with them what I do on a daily basis.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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