IRVING, Texas (AP) — They were words Scott McCarron had to wonder if he'd ever say again in regards to playing golf.
"It was a lot of fun," McCarron said, smiling broadly after his bogey-free 66 Friday got him within a stroke of the lead at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.
McCarron played for seven months with a muscle torn away from the bone in his elbow before surgery in August 2006 to repair the problem. He then missed all last season recovering from the operation, and had struggled back on the course this year — until getting to the Nelson.
With a pair of birdies on each side, McCarron got to 4-under 136, putting him with Mark Hensby and Mathew Goggin, a stroke behind Adam Scott, their fellow Australian and the only of the world's top 10 players at the Nelson.
More encouraging for McCarron was playing healthy.
"There was a long time there where I did not know if that was going to happen," said the 42-year-old McCarron, who has been on the PGA Tour since 1995. "I'm just happy to be playing without pain. I'm taking baby steps to get where I can play and compete again. This is a big step obviously."
McCarron had made only two of seven cuts this season, when he's playing under a major medical extension. His best finish was 46th at the Northern Trust Open two months ago, but he's now in contention in his 13th Nelson.
The fairways at the redesigned TPC Four Seasons course firmed up, but wind still gusting more than 25 mph made scoring conditions tough again. The cut of 3-over 143 was the highest at the Nelson since 2000. The last time a second-round leader had a higher score was 1984.
Trevor Immelman followed his opening 78 with a 75 and became the first Masters champion since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994 to miss the cut in his next tournament.
Ryan Moore (70), who shared the first-round lead with Goggin and Eric Axley, had five birdies and five bogeys. He dropped two strokes off the pace into a tie for fifth with Justin Leonard (bogey-free 66), Parker McLachlin (69), Charley Hoffman (68) and Roland Thatcher (68). Axley shot a 74.
Scott began his round with four straight birdies. Though he managed only one more to go with two bogeys, that was enough for sole possession of the lead.
"It would have been nice to get a couple more after my start," said Scott, 10th in the latest world rankings. "But I'm pretty happy."
After his 25th-place finish at the Masters, Scott returned home to Australia. But after playing a couple of good rounds there, he decided that he "should be back on tour rather than wasting it at Sanctuary Cove."
Instead of staying home for a second week, Scott was a deadline entrant at the Nelson, where he shared the lead in each of the first three rounds in his only other appearance two years ago. He finished third behind Brett Wetterich and Immelman.
The opening string of birdies on Nos. 10-13 at the redone TPC pushed Scott into the lead. He matched Moore after chipping to 7 inches at the 323-yard 11th, then added two more birdies, an 8-footer at No. 12 followed by a 19-footer.
"I just managed to hit a few good shots in a row," Scott said. "There weren't too many after that. It was just a matter of hanging in there. … It was a bit of a battle, a fair bit of scrambling going on. The conditions were tricky."
Scott hit only five of 14 fairways. He missed the green on his approach from the rough for a bogey at the 406-yard 14th, but played even the rest of day.
Hensby, who made the cut for only the third time in his 10 starts this season, had his only two bogeys in his first three holes. But Hensby made an 8-foot birdie at the 180-yard 13th hole and played bogey-free the rest of the round, including a 4-under 31 on the front nine.
Thatcher, a 2007 Nationwide Tour grad who played in one of the last groups of the day, matched Scott for the lead with birdies at Nos. 14 and 16. But Thatcher finished with consecutive bogeys, hitting over the green at the 198-yard 17th before putting his final tee shot into a lake.
"I worked real hard to get there, so it was real frustrating dropping those two shots," Thatcher said. "But overall, a pretty successful day. We'll see how it works out over the weekend."
Notes:@ Defending champion Scott Verplank was 1 over after a 69. … The only one of the last 20 Masters champions to win their next tournament was Tiger Woods, in 1997 at the Nelson. … Frank Lickliter II had the low round of the day: a 65 that included eight birdies and three bogeys. He was tied for 10th at 138. … Goggin had a double bogey at No. 9, but got those strokes back with consecutive birdies. … Leonard, a Dallas native, has made the cut in 14 of his 15th Nelson appearances. his best finish was a tie for sixth in 2001.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.