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Corey Conners tied for 15th at midpoint of Sanderson Farms

Written by Canadian Press with files from Golf Canada
Corey Conners (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

JACKSON, Miss. – Norman Xiong’s ability to make the hard shots on another damp, chilly day made the rest of his second round much easier Friday at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Now the 19-year-old is not only playing on the weekend for the first time on the PGA Tour, he’s in contention.

Xiong shot a 5-under 67 for a share of the lead at the Country Club of Jackson in just his seventh career start. He’s even with Cameron Champ, who settled for a 70 after finishing with back-to-back bogeys.

For Xiong – who is in the field because of a sponsor’s exemption – two straight solid days on the course have helped him build confidence. He and Champ were 9 under for the tournament.

“I guess it finally proves that I belong out here, or hopefully one day eventually can be out here permanently,” Xiong said.

Shawn Stefani and Jonathan Byrd were one shot back, each shooting their second straight 68. Hudson Swafford (68), Seth Reeves (70), Scott Stallings (67), D.J. Trahan (70) and Chad Ramey (70) were two shots back.

Corey Conners (68) of Listowel, Ont., was the low Canadian, sitting in a tie for 15th at 5 under. Nick Taylor (71) of Abbotsford, B.C., and Ben Silverman (65) of Thornhill, Ont., were tied for 31st at 4 under. Adam Svensson (71) of Surrey, B.C., was tied for 50th at 2 under.

David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., both missed the cut.

Xiong started his second round on the back nine and made eagle on No. 11 after hitting a 55-foot putt from the fringe. He followed that encouraging start with two chip-ins for birdie on No. 16 and then No. 6.

“They really kind of take off the pressure on a day like this when it’s windy and the pins are not as accessible,” Xiong said. “You can play safe off those good breaks.”

If Xiong were able to win on Sunday, he’d be the second-youngest winner on tour since 1932. He’d be one day older than Jordan Spieth when he won at the John Deere Classic in 2013.

Xiong was born in Guam and moved to southern California when he was a boy. He played in college at Oregon for two years before turning professional over the summer.

The 23-year-old Champ wasn’t quite as sharp as he was on Thursday, when he shot a 65. He looked as if he was still going to keep his lead and was two shots ahead of Xiong before the disappointing ending.

He started his round on the back nine and managed to stay out of serious trouble until the final two holes. He missed a 7-foot par putt on No. 8 and then couldn’t get up and down on No. 9 and settled for another bogey.

“Today was a struggle ball-striking wise off the tee,” Champ said. “I couldn’t find the fairways. Something was a little off. But I just kept plugging away at it.

“Obviously, my finish wasn’t as good, but I’ll take a 2-under today with the way I was hitting it.”

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