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Levi's lead blown away by the winds

After surging to the front, a ball in the water at No. 14 starts his slide down the leaderboard.

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003

LUTZ -- As Wayne Levi stood over his tee shot on the watery par-5 14th hole, he was 6-under par for the day, 5 under for the tournament.

No others were making the kind of move Levi was. The second-year Champions Tour player just had to keep things together for five more holes.

But the gusty winds that made play so difficult Saturday got to Levi. He hit his tee shot on 14 into the water, which led to double bogey. He did the same on the par-3 17th. He dropped four shots on the final five holes to finish the round at 1-under 70 and par for the two rounds.

His two-round 142 was lowest of those who finished before lightning strikes led to the second round being delayed until this morning. Terry Dill also shot 70 to tie Levi for lowest score of the day.

Levi, one of the smaller tour players at 5 feet 9, 165 pounds, said the wind played a factor when he stood over his shots.

"I hit a lot of good, flush shots," Levi said. "I misplayed a few coming in. I got a little edgy. Once we got to 14, the par 5, the wind was blowing so hard that for a little guy like me it's hard to even stand up.

"And it's especially hard when you got these light clubs. When you get the club into the backswing you can hardly feel where it is. It blows you off just a little, and suddenly you don't hit it solid anymore. You hit it on the toe, or you come over it. That's all it takes. There's water on every one of these holes, so there's always a chance to get in trouble."

Levi was in the first group off the No. 1 tee at 8:23 a.m. He was five shots behind leader Mike McCullough and didn't figure to get much closer on a dismal day for scoring. But after birdies on Nos. 1, 5, 7 and 9, he made the turn at 3 under for the event and was rocketing up the leaderboard.

After birdies at 11 and 12, Levi was the tournament leader at 5 under. Then the wheels came off.

"It's so hard to stay steady over the ball," said Levi, who turned 51 Saturday. "You're happy when you just make contact."

Contact was the problem on both his double bogeys. First it was the drive on 14, then it was a bad iron shot on 17.

"The wind gusted (on 17) and I hit it on the toe a little bit," Levi said. "It was right on line. I hit it right where I wanted to, but it came off the toe and just hung there. You've got to hit it solid there."

Levi was in the top 10, which made him a contender in today's final round, but the 12-time PGA Tour winner has not won on the Champions Tour.

"I'm going to have to hit some shots," Levi said. "I can't have any letdowns like (Saturday)."

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