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Poulter shares lead in Houston, keeps Masters hopes alive

HUMBLE, Texas (AP) — Ian Poulter has played in the Masters a dozen times, never missing the cut. Beau Hossler has never played a competitive round at Augusta National.

Both are in position to become the last man in the Masters field, and neither wants to think about it.

The 42-year-old Poulter surged into a share of the lead at the Houston Open on Saturday with a 7-under 65, and Hossler, a 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie, matched him at 14-under 202 after he holed a 7-footer for birdie on the par-4 18th to shoot 69.

Like all PGA Tour events that offer full FedEx Cup points, the Houston Open title comes with an invitation to next week’s Masters.

“No, not thinking about it, not talking about it,” Poulter said. “I’m going to go out and have some fun tomorrow. There’s a lot of ifs and buts. I’ll have no emotion at all. I’m in a no-lose situation. … I’ll go do my job.”

Four players were two shots behind Poulter and Hossler — Australian Greg Chalmers (65), Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo (67), American Kevin Tway (69) and Paul Dunne of Ireland (69) — and none of them has a spot at Augusta yet either.

Hossler has popped up on a major leaderboard before — he briefly led the 2012 U.S. Open while still in high school — and he said getting to the Masters would be “as good as it gets.” But he said contemplating that opportunity would only lead to “trouble” on Sunday.

Poulter shot 64 on Friday after opening with a 73 that had him packing his bags in anticipation of a missed cut. It was the first time since his last victory in 2012 that he had consecutive rounds of 65 or better on the PGA Tour.

Asked if his rounds ranked among the best back-to-back efforts in his 23 years of touring professionally, Poulter said, “From a putting standpoint, yes, absolutely.”

It was a simple fix for the English veteran renowned for making crucial putts on winning Ryder Cup teams. He opened his shoulders slightly, allowing him to see the lines better, and has played his last 40 holes in 16 under, without a bogey.

“Hopefully I’ve found the key,” Poulter said. “I need to write it down and, when it’s not there, I need to read it.”

Poulter nearly made it into the Masters last week with a run to the quarterfinals at the Dell Technologies Match Play, which improved his world ranking to 51st — just missing the cutoff to move into the top 50. Making matters worse, he had been told by media members that his quarterfinals appearance would guarantee him enough ranking points. But just before he began his quarterfinal match, officials informed him that he’d need to make the semis.

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PERNILLA LINDBERG TAKES 3-SHOT LEAD IN ANA INSPIRATION

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Pernilla Lindberg glanced at Poppie’s Pond walking off the 18th green Saturday at the ANA Inspiration, knowing she put herself in perfect position to celebrate her first professional title with the traditional victory plunge.

“I’ve played a lot of golf in my life and I just feel like the pieces are kind of falling together,” Lindberg said. “I’m just letting it happen.”

The 31-year-old Swede shot a 2-under 70 on another hot and mostly calm day at Mission Hills, pulling away when playing partner Sung Hyun Park collapsed on the back nine.

“I felt calm out there. I had fun,” Lindberg said. “I went out there today and said, ‘How often do you get this chance? So I’m just going to enjoy it.’ And that’s what I did.”

Amy Olson was second after a 68. The 25-year-old former North Dakota State star — and the LPGA Tour’s only certified public accountant — also is seeking her first victory as a pro.

Lindberg was two strokes behind Park after the fourth-ranked South Korean player made her third straight birdie on the par-5 11th. They were then put on the clock for slow play, and Park dropped five strokes in the next five holes.

The U.S. Women’s Open champion bogeyed Nos. 12 and 13, had a double bogey on the par-4 14th after taking two shots to get out of the back bunker, and bogeyed the 16th.

“There were a bunch of fairways that I (missed), so that was something that I am disappointed in my shots,” Park said. “But I had a lot of great play, a lot of good aspects in my game.”

Lindberg scrambled for pars on the first four holes on the back nine, ran in an 18-foot birdie putt on 14 and made a 25-footer for par on 15 for a two-stroke swing. Lindberg bogeyed the par-3 17th and then hit a wedge to 5 feet to set up a birdie on the par-5 18th. She broke the tournament 54-hole mark at 14-under 202.

Park finished with a 74 to fall into a tie for third at 10 under. She shot a 64 on Friday for a share of the second-round lead with Lindberg.

Inbee Park, the 2013 winner and a seven-time major champion, had a 67 to get into the group at 10 under with Moriya Jutanugarn (66), Jennifer Song (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (69) and Charley Hull (69). Inbee Park won the Founders Cup two weeks ago in Phoenix, playing the final 36 holes in 14 under.

“Definitely a much better putting day than the last couple days,” Inbee Park said. “Especially on the back nine, I was able to hit some good bunker shots and make those par saves.”

Lindberg made a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole, bogeyed the par-3 fifth for her first dropped stroke of the week, and rebounded with a 20-foot par save on the par-4 sixth. The former Oklahoma State player added a 35-footer for birdie on the par-3 eighth.

“My putter obviously saved me a few times,” Lindberg said.

Olson, from Oxbow, North Dakota, had five birdies and a bogey. Ranked 218th in the world, she won an NCAA-record 20 titles for the Bison.

“You have to learn to win on every level,” Olson said. “I’m excited to be in the position that I’m in and just give myself a learning opportunity.”

Ayako Uehara (70) was 9 under, and top-ranked Shanshan Feng (67) and Jessica Korda (73) were another stroke back.

Stanford sophomore Albane Valenzuela shot 71 to get to 7 under and top the four amateurs to make the cut. Minjee Lee also was 7 under after a 64, the best round of the day.

“The first two days I was hitting it really well, but I just didn’t make any putts,” Lee said.

Lexi Thompson was tied for 17th at 6 under after a 70. She won in 2015 and lost a playoff to So Yeon Ryu a year ago after being penalized four strokes during the final round for a rules violation the day before.

Michelle Wie was 2 under after a 72. She has fought dizziness caused by a virus.

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