Crowded Leaderboard in Tampa

By Associated PressMarch 8, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 PODS ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Cliff Kresge nearly holed out from the fairway twice with a wedge in hand, so when his 5-iron from 184 yards headed toward the flag Thursday, his caddie instinctively said, 'Go in this time.'
And it did
It was one of two eagles for Kresge, who was 8 under through 11 holes until a few errant drives down the stretch made him settle for a 6-under 65 and a two-shot lead in the PODS Championship, the first time he has ever led any round in 114 starts on the PGA TOUR.
Among those at 67 was Arron Oberholser, who believes he has a grip on his back problems with an innovative workout routine.
'For 11 holes, it was a dream round,' Kresge said. 'And then I kind of got in my way a little bit at the end. Still, 6 under is darn good.'
He was so flawless with his irons that the longest putt he made was from 10 feet for eagle on No. 11, and while Kresge knew he was playing well, the scoreboard offered even greater proof. At one point, he was five shots clear of the field.
'That was kind of funny,' Kresge said. 'It's not a course that's going to give up 8 under after 11. Everything was just happening.'
Most players were curious about the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, one of the best on tour in Florida. This tournament had been held in the fall since it began in 2000, a time when the fairways are crispy and quick, and the Bermuda grass is tricky.
With rye grass keeping the course green and lush, it didn't allow anyone to run away, even though Kresge tried.
'It played a lot longer than it has ever played,' Jesper Parnevik said after a 68. 'We hit shots into the green that you would never dream about hitting in the fall.'
The greens added to the adventure, firm and fast, with a tinge of brown from being mowed so tight.
'The greens react like they're dead,' said Tim Herron, who chipped in for birdie on his last hole for a 73. 'When you get real close to the greens, they're actually brown. It was tough.'
Kresge had a simple solution for that, not leaving himself much distance between the ball and the cup.
He got up-and-down on the par-5 first, then hit wedge into a foot on the third. After laying up on the par-5 fifth, he hit another wedge that spun within 18 inches of the cup. Then came No. 6, where Kresge found his ball at the front edge of a divot. He was between clubs and opted for the 5-iron, playing a cut shot because of a lie that favored a hook.
'It was going to stay pretty straight, and it landed perfectly,' Kresge said.
Even when he was at 8 under through 11 holes -- the course record is 9-under 62 -- he didn't get much attention. Kresge said he didn't notice any photographers with him until about the 14th hole, and it wasn't long after that when he started missing fairways and paying the price, with bogeys on the 16th and 18th.
'Charlie Wi said, 'What's going on out here? You're lapping the field and nobody is out there,'' Kresge said. 'They only show up when I play bad. I don't know what the deal is.'
There were cameras on Kresge during his most infamous moment playing this game. That was the final stage of Q-school in 2000, lining up an important putt when he backed up and tumbled into the creek behind him.
'Every time I do anything good, somebody is going to bring it up,' he said. 'It's something different that happened that nobody has ever really done. It's unique.'
Oberholser was joined at 67 by Daniel Chopra and rookies Anthony Kim and Doug LaBelle.
Vijay Singh, the only player from the top 10 in the world ranking at Innisbrook, was at 70, along with Nissan Open champion Charles Howell III and Sergio Garcia.
Oberholser has back problem that are certainly not unique to him.
He played only one round this year, at Kapalua for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, when he felt twinges that turned out to be bulging disks. It was the third time in four years he has been hampered by a back injury, but he thinks he found a solution.
Oberholser began a training regimen he described as 'Eastern Bloc stuff' that straps him to an Accelerated Recovery Performance machine and requires him to hold various postures. His fiancee, LPGA Tour player Angie Rizzo, talked him into it.
'You don't go to these guys when you're feeling good,' he said. 'You go to these guys because this is the last stop. It's extremely intense. You hear people crying in the gym.'
He wasn't crying at Innisbrook, rather pleasantly surprised that he felt good and scored well.
Only 27 players managed to break par, and the scoring average was 72.3. ... Brad Faxon, who has missed every cut this year, finally put together a good round with a 1-under 70. Faxon has started working with Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett, who have a diverse list of players that include Mike Weir, Dean Wilson and Will MacKenzie. ... Ryan Moore made a hole-in-one on the 17th hole, then followed that with a birdie to shoot 69.
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