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Star-Bulletin Sports

Saturday, January 13, 2001

H A W A I I _ G O L F

or not, Furyk’s
fire burns

He's won several tournaments
in blustery conditions, but he
prefers sunny, still days

Mercedes Hawaii

Bullet Els' lead: big, not easy

By Paul Arnett

KAPALUA, Maui -- It's not as if Jim Furyk chants for the tradewinds to blow every time he visits the island chain.

True, the PGA Tour veteran seems to play better with a brisk breeze at his back one second and whipping across his face the next. His PGA Tour victories in Las Vegas and Hawaii attest to that.

But if the 30-year-old had his druthers, the Plantation Course would be a calm setting for the final two rounds of the $3.5 million Mercedes Championships. Not that anybody is expecting that. But for Furyk, it's simply a case of being careful what you wish for.

"I would never say that I like the wind," Furyk said yesterday after shooting a second consecutive 69. He entered today's third round in a tie for second with Vijay Singh and Rory Sabbatini at 8-under par, four strokes behind leader Ernie Els.

"That's just asking for it to blow 100 or something (today)," Furyk said. "I've had some success and I feel like when I'm playing well, I can do as well as the next day in the wind. I hit the ball low fairly easily and I've had some success, whether it's the British Open or winning here at Kapalua.

"I also won the Hawaiian Open and lost in a playoff. I won Vegas one year, when we had the really bad wind. I really don't mind it. But I would much rather wake to a nice, sunny day like everyone else."

The tradewind flow brought a wisp of rain that fell in Kapalua for most of last night. It was a fine mist that chilled West Maui, which could make things interesting today should the nasty weather linger.

For Furyk, he's just glad to be here. Last week, he went to see his doctor about a nagging right wrist injury that limited his golf time of late. He played 18 holes with David Duval a week ago. Prior to that, he maybe had nine holes over the course of three days.

He and Gave Hjertstedt spent some time over the holidays working on their short games. Neither could swing full because of injuries, so Furyk is a little surprised he's at the top of the leaderboard after 36 holes.

"I called my doctor before Christmas," Furyk said. "He told me to take a week off and not hit any balls. I didn't want to try to play in pain, so I listened to him. I didn't want to go out, try to play in pain, keep it going, keep nagging it and really end up having a six- or eight-month injury. I came over here a little sore, but I've been taking care of it."

There are times when Furyk's rustiness shows. He has hit some really poor shots that have led to less than spectacular scores. But instead of getting frustrated about it, Furyk just takes it in stride by laughing to himself.

The results are promising. He is the only golfer to complete the first 36 holes without a bogey. He and Loren Roberts needed just 27 putts yesterday on the demanding greens that have left most of the golfers shaking their heads.

"I'd like to make a few more birdies, but one of the things -- I don't know if I'm in a good mood out there or I've been off the golf course so long -- but I've been pretty patient," Furyk said. "I've kind of let them fall as they may. I haven't made a ton of birdies, but when I've made some mistakes, my short game has come to my rescue."



Woods keeps streak alive

KAPALUA, Maui -- Tiger Woods is well aware a streak is trailing after him like a championship boxer's entourage, but he rarely acknowledges its existence.

That may be, but the 30-foot birdie putt he tracked steady and true through the wind and the grain on the 17th green at the Mercedes Championships brought a brief smile to Woods' otherwise stoic face. It assured him of his 49th consecutive round of par or better with a close-shave 73.

That same number in Dallas at the Byron Nelson last May led to a 1-over finish. He was fortunate the Plantation Course is a rare par-73 or his PGA record run would be done.

"I know about the streak, but I never think about it,'' said Woods, who's tied for 18th, a distant nine strokes off Ernie Els' wicked pace through two rounds of the $3.5 million Mercedes Championships.

Woods' erratic road produced three bogeys on as many par-3s and a meager three birdies, including the dramatic putt on the 17th. Normally, Woods does no worse than a birdie on the 663-yard finishing hole. But an unlikely three-putt from just off the front of the green spoke volumes of what the world's No. 1 player went through.

Before trying to recover from one of many errant drives, Woods turned to an ESPN cameraman and said, "Back up.'' No playful banter here. The 25-year-old had hoped to successfully defend his title, but he'll have to find his game in a hurry to do it.

"I would say I'm a little bit rusty,'' Woods said. "It can't get much worse. I'm hitting terrible. I'm chipping terrible. And I'm putting terrible. I just need to get off to a good, solid start (today). I'm not striking the ball as good as I need to. But, you never know.''

Els would be the first to agree. He lost to Woods last year in a dramatic two-hole playoff that set a similar stage for most of the season. Els played very well in the year 2000. Just not as well as Woods. The roles are seemingly reversed entering the final 36 holes this weekend. A key reason is the wind of West Maui, which can play tricks on a precision golfer like Woods.

"The wind is tough to read out there,'' Woods said. "We're hitting clubs we're not used to hitting certain yardages. I'm just playing terrible. I feel good about my swing. I hit some really good shots. But I hit some God-awful ones, too.''

Triple dip slides by

South African Rory Sabbatini flirted with a little note of history as his third shot on the par-5, 18th missed rolling in for an eagle. He already had recorded two, at the par-5 ninth and 15th holes. Carlos Franco turned a similar trick on Thursday. The last player to eagle three holes in one round was Brian Kamm at the 1998 Kemper Open.

Walk on the wild side

This week, some questions from the national golf media have centered on players being ferried in a golf cart up a steep fairway on No. 4 and a large ravine that guards the par-3 eighth. It seems to contradict the argument being used in a court case against Casey Martin that he can't use a cart in competition.

That case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week and it's possible those arguing on Martin's behalf will question the logic of helping the golfers through two difficult areas of the wide-open Plantation Course.

The PGA Tour argues it's to keep the flow of the event lively for TV. Unlike a full-field tournament where as many as 70 golfers could be playing over the weekend, the Mercedes Championships only has 33. There's already enough time to fill as far as ESPN is concerned.

Low ball

Second-round leader Els and Jesper Parnevik shot the low rounds of the day. Both had bogey-free 66s. The 7-under effort vaulted Els to a four-shot lead over Sabbatini, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk. For Parnevik, it was a shot at redemption.

He managed a miserable 76 on Thursday that was so bad, he had to let Woods and Paul Azinger play through on the front side, something that happens maybe twice a year on the PGA Tour.

"I went through the round on Thursday and I could have easily shot 6- or 7-under,'' Parnevik said. "And I shot 3-over. I need that little bit more focus that goes through 18 holes. Sometimes I play better when the wind is blowing. I hit my shots really well today. I holed a sand wedge from 90 yards on my second shot. Every time I had a four- or five-foot putt for par I made it today.''

Sony Open bound

Woods, David Duval, Hal Sutton and Phil Mickelson may be skipping next week's $4 million Sony Open, but 23 of the 33 in the winners-only Mercedes Championships field are scheduled to play for the first-place purse of $720,000.

The 144-player field was finalized 30 minutes after the completion of yesterday's second round. Among the notables are Els, Masters winner Singh, Parnevik, defending champion Paul Azinger, Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman and Davis Love III.

Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin

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