KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- Entering the day one stroke back, Mark Hubbard overcame a slow start to post five back nine birdies and take a one-stroke lead entering the weekend at the Knoxville Open. Hubbard carded his second consecutive 65 to reach 12-under 130 at the halfway point at Fox Den Country Club.
With a win under his belt earlier this year at the LECOM Suncoast Classic, Hubbard is in position to earn his PGA TOUR card for the 2019-2020 season with a strong finish in Knoxville.
“[With a win already] You’re really just trying to have good finishes moving forward,” said Hubbard, who hit all 14 fairways on Friday. “I’m absolutely trying to win, but at the same time, if I play good golf the rest of the year, I’m in a good spot to get my card. This year I’ve gotten so much better playing my own game and figuring out what I need to do with my game to play well.”
Even with softer course conditions after overnight rain, Hubbard parred his first six holes before a birdie at the seventh led to a 1-under on the front nine. The Denver native jumpstarted his round after the turn, tallying birdies at the 10th, 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th to close out a bogey-free 65. He is one of three players without a bogey through 36 holes.
“I felt the urgency to start the day after a slow start,” said Hubbard. “For a while there, I was just like, ‘Alright, do your thing and if you shoot even today, you’re still in it.’ I was checking out the leaderboard a little bit to make sure that nobody was running away with it. For me the back nine suits my eye better. If I just play the front nine under par, I’ll be in a good spot this week.”
Despite Hubbard’s slow start, his back-nine ball striking led to a stress-free close to the round. On No. 12, Hubbard stuck it inside three feet and followed that up with a near ace at the par-3 13th for a tap-in birdie. To finish his round, he hit the ball inside six feet at the 17th and four feet at the 18th.
“I thought it was going in,” said Hubbard of his shot at the 13th. “We were trying to hit the same exact number as the hole before. Everything was set up. It was a gettable hole…That would have been my ninth ace. I had my eighth in Nashville. Tennessee is a good spot for me, I guess.”
Spurred by his win earlier this season, Hubbard entered the week ninth on the Web.com Tour Regular Season points list with 626 points. The San Jose State University alum is looking to graduate from the Web.com Tour for the second time. The 29-year-old originally graduated in 2014 and spent three years on the PGA TOUR before returning to the Web.com Tour over the past two seasons.
Clemson University alum Billy Kennerly sits one shot back at 11-under 131 after a second-round 66. Kennerly notched birdies at Nos. 12 and 18 on the back nine before earning birdies at the third, fourth, eighth and ninth coming in (against a lone bogey). The 26-year-old entered the week 47th on the points list with three top-25s on the season.
Third-round tee times will run from 6:54 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. on Saturday off of the first tee.