By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Defending champion Adam Scott was patience personified as he grafted to a share of the lead at the Australian Masters, while American Matt Kuchar moved quietly into contention after the second round on Friday.
U.S. Masters champion Scott was rock-solid on another blustery day at Royal Melbourne, shooting a flawless five-under 66 for a nine-under total of 133 and a one-shot lead with local surprise package Nathan Holman.
Although sublime off tee and fairway, and enjoying a perfect start with three straight birdies, Scott had to grind his way through a frustrating run of 11 straight pars before picking up strokes on the 15th and 17th.
"I was hoping it was going to be one of those days," Scott told reporters after burning the cups on at least half a dozen holes.
"But it definitely cooled off... It kind of feels like I plodded along. It wasn't an exciting five-under at all."
Flanked by huge galleries and enjoying a purple patch of form, the 33-year-old's bogey-free round kept his title defense on track and his bid to sweep Australia's three marquee tournaments alive ahead of the national Open in Sydney.
Along with Holman, Scott, who won the Australian PGA Championship in the Gold Coast last week, sit a stroke ahead of overnight leader Nick Cullen and fellow Australian Matt Griffin on eight-under.
World number eight Kuchar, warming up for his title defense for the United States at the World Cup of Golf at the same course next week, was alone in fifth place after carding a 66 set up by a blistering front nine.
Having battled to an even-par round on Thursday, the rangy 35-year-old charged out of the blocks with four straight birdies in his opening holes.
Kuchar stumbled with a double-bogey on the par-four 13th before finishing eagle-bogey-par-par to lie four strokes adrift.
"I know Adam Scott is playing some great golf," said Kuchar, a member of the United States' Presidents Cup-winning team this year and at Royal Melbourne in 2011.
"I am going to have to keep my front nine going for 36 more holes to catch him but it is possible."
Twenty-two year-old rookie Holman lit up the course early, sharing the day's best round of six-under with Griffin, another Melbourne local, who once did odd jobs at the famed sand belt course as a teenager.
Having just turned professional, Holman will be paired with the tournament's top draw card Scott in Saturday's third round.
"Probably there will be nerves but I am ready to accept the challenge and I would love to be able to play with him and try and go head to head with him and hopefully it is on Sunday," said the rookie, who grew up a short drive from the course.
After a scratchy opening round of 72, Fijian former world number one Vijay Singh carded a solid 68 to book his place in the weekend's action. The triple major champion is seven off the pace.
(Editing by John O'Brien)