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Fraser gets his neck in front in Sydney

Marcus FraserSYDNEY, Dec. 7 - Marcus Fraser fired a second successive three-under-par 69 on Friday for one-shot lead going into the weekend at the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney.

Overnight leader John Senden was one over for the day and five under for the tournament in second place with Brendan Jones (68, 71), while a fourth Australian, Nick Cullen (70, 70), was a further shot back.

Two years ago Fraser was told he would never play again unless he underwent a neck operation, but he showed he had fully recovered with five birdies and two bogeys around the the 6,290-metre (6,879-yard) course.

The A$1.25 million tournament, co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the PGA Tour of Australasia, is the penultimate event for both.

"If I hadn't had the operation there is no way I would have played again -- no chance at all," said Fraser, "so it was a pretty easy decision to make."

"He replaced a disc in my neck -- put an artificial one in there, a carbon-fibre cage around the disc and also a metal plate. Just a pretty basic operation …".

Fraser has played seven weeks in-a-row -- including a failed bid to earn his U.S. PGA Tour card at Q-School -- but the European Tour regular still has a spring in his step.

His tournament actually came alive in the first round at the 11th when he found himself three over for the tournament and already thinking of a flight home to Melbourne.

He birdied the next four holes -- and then aced the par-three 15th -- to ignite his round, and continued the good work on Friday.

"It turned the tournament right around," said Fraser. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going into the weekend."

The morning starters had the best of the conditions on Friday with the stiff afternoon wind playing havoc with any lofted shot and also further drying the slick green.

Marquee attraction Justin Rose, the world's number four,  struggled to a 73  and a share of fifth place, while Adam Scott (71) bettered his opening round by one to stand five shots of the pace.

Indonesia's Rory Hie climbed up the leader board until his last hole, the par-three ninth, when an errant tee shot followed by a mis-hit chip to a tricky ridge left him with a double bogey for a 69 and two under for the tournament.

"I'm pretty happy with what I've done so far and hopefully the next two days will get even better," said Hie.

Veteran American Tom Watson, who won the Australian Open in 1984 -- the year after collecting the last of his eight Majors -- shot 68 on Friday, ten strokes better than his opening round, to comfortably make a cut set at plus four.

Third-placed Cullen, winner of OneAsia's Indonesia Open earlier this year, could still win the tour's Order of Merit with a strong finish here and at the final event of the season, next week's Australian PGA Championship.

Fellow Australian Matt Griffin, who won the Charity High1 Resort Open, and China"s Liang Wenchong, the Nanshan China Masters winner, are also in the hunt as they go into the weekend at level par.

Defending champion Greg Chalmers is two over for the tournament with it all to do at the weekend.
 

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