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Akshay Bhatia handling the stress in taking big lead at Valero Texas Open

SAN ANTONIO – There is no shortage of anxiety waiting at TPC San Antonio, one of the PGA Tour’s most demanding tests made even more difficult by the ubiquitous Texas wind. But for Akshay Bhatia, the Oaks Course is a refuge.

Bhatia followed an opening 63 at the Valero Texas Open with a 70 on Friday to maintain a five-shot lead over three others. But even with that commanding advantage, it’s still been a stressful few days that has tested his attempts to simplify his life both on and off the golf course.

“I’ve never had many goals. There’s more day-to-day goals. Just learning a lot more how to handle certain things off the golf course has truly helped,” Bhatia said. “I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety and it’s really stressful, it can be very stressful out here, so handling it the best way I can and talking a little better to myself makes a big difference.

“That’s kind of where I’ve seen the growth so far the last couple weeks is just trying to improve just outside of golf and hopefully the golf kind of does what it does.”

Bhatia said his attempt to remove the stress from his life was tested at last week’s Texas Children’s Houston Open where he finished tied for 11th following a final-round 69.

“Last week being in contention, had the lead, I remember looking on hole 8 or 9, I knew I had the lead and I remember specifically six shots I should have backed off and that’s where I kind of lost the golf tournament,” he said. “It’s great to learn that stuff. That’s where, mentally, I’m learning that versus beating myself up for not winning.”

Friday’s 2-under round was also another chance to learn from adversity after Bhatia bogeyed two of his first six holes. He rebounded on his second nine with three birdies, thanks to unrivaled ball-striking. He’s leading strokes gained: tee to green, having picked up more than 10 ½ shots on the field. And his short game — he’s 6-for-7 scrambling this week — has helped maintain his momentum.

“It wasn’t my best stuff,” he said. “I felt like I struggled a lot off the tee today, golf swing didn’t feel great with any of the longer stuff, but iron play was still phenomenal, wedges were good, made some nice putts.”