After years of using a grip-it-and-rip-it philosophy, Kelly knew the only way to survive this weeks Players Championship was to place his tee shots in the fairway, and out of the penal rough.
Through two rounds, his new strategy is paying dividends. The former Buy.Com Player of the Year has found the rough on only four occasions. That has helped translate into scores of 69-66, and the lead through two days in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Kelly followed a bogey-free 69 with a one-eagle, five-birdie, one-bogey 66 to move to 9-under-par entering the weekend. Hes one shot clear of overnight leader Paul Azinger, who shot a 2-under 70. Scott Hoch (70), Vijay Singh (70) and Kenny Perry (66) are two off the lead at 8-under-par.
A lot tougher conditions today, said Azinger, who opened in 66.
With the winds picking up and the greens drying out, no one was able to go low enough to break from the pack.
Tiger Woods carded a 3-under-par 69 ' just his second sub-70 score in 18 professional rounds on the Stadium Course. Tigers round included five birdies and a double bogey on the par-3 17th (his 8th hole of the day).
Woods tried to get an 8-iron to the flag, but came up short and wet. Nonetheless, hes relatively pleased to be entering the weekend at 3-under-par.
I didnt really hit the ball as good as yesterday, thats for sure. But I scored better today, said Woods, who shot 72 in the first round. It was definitely a day of patience.
Kelly is no biblical Job, but he did adhere to his game plan; and it worked. His 66 was easily his lowest score in 16 rounds played at The Players.
Aggressive by nature ' he played hockey at the University of Hartford ' Kelly shortened his swing to control his accuracy.
Surprisingly I tend to be hitting it farther now that I'm shortening it up and just trying to hit it in the fairways, said Kelly, who entered the event ranked 152nd on the Tour in driving accuracy.
Kelly kick-started his round by dropping in an eight-foot eagle putt on the par-4 2nd. He then picked up two more shots before making the turn. After a bogey on the par-3 13th, Kelly responded by sticking an 8-iron to four feet on the next hole.
Another birdie at the par-5 16th moved him into a share of first place at 8-under. He then rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the last to take the outright lead into the clubhouse.
I played smart golf, which is kind of new to me, said Kelly. Ive always been a hard swinger, a little preoccupied with distance. Now, Im getting the ball in good position to use my irons.
Kellys PGA Tour career began in 1996, following a two-win season on the Buy.Com Tour in 1995 ' a year in which he also won Player of the Year honors.
The Madison, Wis., native nearly captured his first PGA Tour title in his rookie campaign at the 96 Greater Milwaukee Open. Playing amid a media circus ' it was Woods professional debut ' Kelly shot a final-round 64 to force a playoff with Loren Roberts; which Roberts won with a birdie on the first extra hole.
Though he hasnt won in five full seasons on Tour, Kelly has been quite consistent. Hes yet to have to make a trip to Q-School, and hes earned more than $2.5 million.
2001 is shaping up to be a career-best season for Kelly. Hes now made the cut in all eight of his starts. Hes also collected a pair of top-10 finishes, and currently stands in 34th place on the money list with over $340,000.
Now, hes at the top of the leaderboard in the Tours most lucrative event.
You know, I really feel like I havent achieved a lot, said Kelly, who lived in Florida for 15 years before recently moving back to Wisconsin fulltime. Where Ive put my potential within myself is a lot higher than whats happened in my golf career.
Thursday, Azinger was asked what it would mean for him to win this event. His response: Id be rich.
Of course, he was joking. But there is a $1,080,000 first-place prize up for grabs. Friday, Azinger closed his second round by bogeying the par-3 8th and birdieing the par-5 9th.
Tied for the lead at the time, Azinger got over-aggressive with his tee shot on the 8th (his 17th) and landed in the left greenside bunker. Faced with a side-slope stance, Azinger hacked out past the pin and through the green.
Azingers bogey, combined with Kellys birdie at the 18th, meant the 18-hole leader trailed by two entering his final hole of the day. Fortunately, that last hole was a par-5.
With 114 yards to the green after two shots, Azinger hesitated between using a 9-iron and a pitching wedge. He chose the 9-iron. Good choice. Azinger stuck his approach shot to a foot and tapped in for birdie to finish the day in second place.
I think it doesnt matter really where you are after two days or after three; its where you are after four days, Azinger said.
It wasnt love at first strike for Hoch and the TPC at Sawgrass. In his first 13 Players starts, Hoch missed seven cuts and withdrew twice. Then, after Greg Normans 24-under-par performance in 1994, changes were made to the course - much to the delight of Hoch.
They added rough. By making it tougher, you add rough, stated Hoch. Ever since they have had rough here, which they have had some serious rough here, I went from not cashing in a check for ten years to finishing second, because they had rough. Then my attitude changed, and I played well, obviously.
Since 1994s Stadium Course slaughter, the winning score has been lower than 10-under-par only twice; and Hoch has finished in the top-20 on all six occasions. His best finish came in 1997, when he finished runner-up behind Steve Elkington.
Singh has never really come close to contending in this event. In eight prior starts, the Fijian has only recorded one top-10.
This year, however, things are different. Thanks to rounds of 67-70, Singh is just two back with two to play.
I was never this close to the lead before. Im usually close to making the cut, Singh said. Im actually looking forward to the weekend. I think I have a better than good chance to win this thing.
News, Notes and Numbers
*The cutline fell at 3-over-par. Seventy-six players made the cut. Lee Westwood carded a quadruple bogey 8 on the par-4 18th to fall from even par to 4-over. He missed the cut by a stroke.
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