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Rocket Mortgage Classic: Tom Lewis and Joaquin Niemann are bogey-free and share 36-hole lead

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DETROIT – At a muddy, water-logged Detroit Golf Club, Joaquin Niemann and Tom Lewis have been Mr. Clean this week.

As in their cards, through two rounds of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, are spotless. No bogeys through 36 holes have the 22-year-old Chilean and the 30-year-old Englishman at the top of the leaderboard and feeling pretty good about it.

“Right now everything is pretty good,” Niemann said.

And why wouldn’t it be? Niemann, who fired a 65 on Thursday, was in one of the last groups to complete the first round before play was suspended due to darkness. He returned on Friday morning and kept away those pesky bogeys. He opened with seven pars before wedging inside 3 feet for his first birdie of the day at No. 8. He tacked on another at the par-5 14th, after hitting the green in 2 and two putting and took advantage of the par-5 17th for his final circle on the card.

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Niemann’s second-round 3-under 69 boosted his 36-hole total to 10-under 134, same as Lewis, and one-stroke better than Troy Merritt, Max Homa and Chris Kirk at the midway point of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Niemann, who entered the week ranked No. 30 in the world, blamed a balky putter for his first missed cut of the season at the Memorial and for middling finishes at the U.S. Open and the Travelers Championship. But it’s come alive this week.

“I think that’s the best part of my game right now,” he said.

Indeed, it has. Niemann, who finished T-5 here in 2019, has gained more than five strokes on the green and he’s a perfect 9-for-9 in scrambling.

Lewis, 30, birdied two of his first four holes and canned a 9-foot par putt at the last hole to save par and keep the card spotless for the first 36 holes.

“I was saying to my caddie, John, it would be nice to go up and down and go bogey-free for two rounds. It’s always nice doing that,” Lewis said. “I’m just happy, even if I did miss that putt, to be in the position I am going into the weekend. I’m really pleased with the way I’ve been playing.”

As he should given that he’s missed the cut in half of his 22 previous starts this season as well as four of his last six tournaments, and his only top-10 finish was at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a two-man team event. Lewis opened with a pair of 67s last week at the Travelers Championship to make the cut but stumbled to 74 on Saturday and tumbled to a T-47 finish.

“I think the toughest round for me is going to be tomorrow. If I can go out and shoot under par, whatever happens, I’ll be really happy with that,” he said.

Lewis and Niemann have plenty of company behind them. Merritt’s 4-under 68 was set up by hitting all 14 fairways on Friday.

“When it’s this soft out here, there’s pretty much one club you hit off of every tee box, don’t even have to think about it,” he said.

But the key has been the return of his putting form, he said.

“When it’s consistently the best part of your game and you struggle with it for more than half of the year, it makes it pretty tough,” Merritt said.

Max Homa can relate, although he only struggled to see putts fall for about 30 holes. But once he broke the seal with a 35-footer at the par-3 15th, he finished with a flurry of four birdies in a row to shoot 7-under 65.

“Joe said it best,” Homa said of caddie Joe Greiner. “When we made the putt on 16, he said, ‘It’s a messed up game we play because we’ve been feeling like the hole’s a thimble and you make one long one and it starts to feel like a bucket.’ ”

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Homa’s round tied for the low round of the day with Russell Knox, who hit all 18 greens in regulation and didn’t mind the gusty conditions. Neither did Chris Kirk, who shot 68 and is chasing his first PGA Tour victory since 2015 at a tree-lined course that fits his eye.

“Yeah, it certainly favors the guys that are hitting it out of the middle of the face, that’s for sure,” he said.

Does he count himself among them?

“So far, so far, yeah. It’s been all right,” he said.

Among those who weren’t dialed in this week are Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland and Webb Simpson, who missed the cut. Hideki Matsuyama is another big name who checked out early after testing positive for COVID-19.

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