SOTOGRANDE, Spain - Sergio Garcia avoided a two-shot penalty then finished with two birdies for a 2-under 69 and one-stroke lead Friday after two rounds of the Volvo Masters.
Garcia feared he might be disqualified for playing a provisional ball on the 196-yard third hole at Valderrama, not realizing his original tee shot had been found in the trees. Chief referee John Paramor deliberated for 30 minutes after the round before letting the score stand.
Garcia would have been penalized two shots for playing the wrong ball if he continued to use the provisional, but Paramor said none of the 500 spectators around the green told Garcia his shot had been found, a situation Paramor called "bizarre in the extreme."
Garcia said he was relieved.
"I didn't think I had done anything wrong," he said. "I was surprised to see John afterwards."
Garcia stood at 6-under 136, one ahead of Alastair Forsyth (69) and two ahead of Ian Poulter (67).
Darren Clarke led until the par-5 17th. He hit three wedges onto the green that rolled down the severe slope into the water. He finished with an 11 and dropped to 25th after a 72.
Clarke joins a long list of victims of the 17th, which first gained notoriety during the 1997 Ryder Cup when Tiger Woods putted off the green into the water.
Two years later, he hit a 9-iron from 100 yards with no spin, but a gust of wind got the ball rolling into the water, and he made 8, nearly costing him the American Express Championship.
Nick Price was one shot behind in 2000 when he twice hit into the water and made 8.
However, Garcia used a 3-wood from 241 yards on the hole. His shot landed softly about 15 feet from the pin for a two-putt birdie, and he finished the round with a wedge to within 10 feet.
The tournament, the season-ending event on the European Tour that includes all 12 members of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team, has been marred by the absence of the tour's money leaders, Ernie Els, who is injured, and U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who is playing in Palm Harbor. Padraig Harrington, $2.37-million, can overtake Goosen and finish second by winning.
LPGA: Playing in her home country, South Korea's Grace Park shot 6-under 66 to share the lead with Carin Koch at the CJ Nine Bridges Classic in Jeju. Jill McGill and Karen Stupples are one back.
Koch, seeking her second tour win, opened with four birdies. Park bogeyed 13 but birdied 16 and 18. Lorena Ochoa made a hole-in-one at the par-3 13th then birdied 17 and eagled 18 to shoot 68. Annika Sorenstam had four birdies and three bogeys to shoot 71.