Kraft Pleased with Steps Back to PGA Success

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PGA Tour (75x100)RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico -- Just a few years ago, Greg Kraft figured his golfing career was done, cut short by an illness that sapped his strength and led him to sue the PGA TOUR .
 
Now, the 43-year-old Kraft is in line for his first PGA Tour victory in 15 years at the Puerto Rico Open, his 66 on Friday leaving him three strokes behind leader Bo Van Pelt.
 
Van Pelt (68) held a one-shot lead over Jerry Kelly (66) and two over Ted Purdy (68) at this first-time event.
 
Kraft was in a group with 24-year-old qualifier Ryan Blaum (66) and Briny Baird (68) another stroke behind.
 
Kraft is grateful for the chance to compete at this level again, no matter if Tiger Woods and many of the worlds top-ranked players are on the U.S. mainland at the World Golf Championship stop, the CA Championships.
 
I didnt think Id be out here again, Kraft said.
 
Kraft had almost cracked the top 50 in money earnings a decade ago, his swing grooved to compete and his star ready to rise.
 
Then he contracted a disease called Valley fever that turned his life upside down.
 
Kraft says it happened at the Tucson Open in 2002. Valley fever is caused by a fungus released when soil is disturbed and debilitates the lungs.
 
Suddenly, Kraft was losing strength and didnt know the cause. Worse yet, neither did doctors, some pointing the blame at cancer.
 
Kraft underwent a year of painful chemotherapy and, eventually, a section of one lung was removed.
 
Golf was over, Kraft had no doubt about that. I basically lost three years out here, he said.
 
Kraft sued the tour in 2003, his attorney at the time saying the tour had a responsibility to protect its players health. The suit was dismissed, he said.
 
Kraft recovered slowly. He didnt play at all in 2004, then spent most of 2005 on the Nationwide Tour. He tied for 18th at Q-school that fall, earning back PGA TOUR privileges.
 
Kraft had to regain his confidence as well. He was in his 30s at the time of the disease and wondered, as he struggled to return, whether his diminished skill was simply the illness or the passage of time.
 
In Puerto Rico, Kraft has shown his skill with rounds of 69 and 66.
 
He hadnt opened with two sub-70 rounds since finishing sixth at the Wyndham Championship last August. First three rounds in the 60s? Kraft hadnt done that since a Nationwide Tour event three years ago.
 
Kraft began five shots off Van Pelts first-round lead and got his round going with birdies on the fourth, sixth and seventh holes. He took the lead with closing birdies on the 17th and 18th, the final one coming after he blasted out of bunker alongside the green to 2 feet.
 
That made my lunch better, Kraft said.
 
Van Pelt followed his first-round 64 with a second straight sub-70 round for the first time in eight events this season.
 
Kelly, who at No. 63 is the highest-ranked golfer here, also played well for a second straight round. He had five birdies in his first six holes and closed with a birdie on the 17th after blasting out of a bunker.
 
Kraft hopes to pick up his pace the final two rounds. If he keeps it up, he could collect his second PGA TOUR win'and second victory opposite another event.
 
Krafts 1993 win at the Deposit Guarantee Golf Classic in Mississippi came when that tournament was played during Masters week.
 
If he falters, Kraft says hes still satisfied with how far hes come. Hell ride it as long as he can.
 
Sometimes you play well for a round, sometimes its four days, sometimes its a month, sometimes its a year and sometimes its a career, like for Tiger, Kraft said, grinning.
 
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