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Back toward the pack

One day after a course record, the shots don't fall for Jeff Sluman, who remains tied for the lead with three others not far behind.

BOB HARIG
Published October 30, 2004

PALM HARBOR - The hole was not as big, the putter not nearly as cooperative. Jeff Sluman played Friday much the same as he did Thursday, when he caused jaws to drop with a course-record 62 at the Chrysler Championship. But golf being a four-letter word, the results were not nearly the same.

Sluman, a 20-year veteran of the PGA Tour with six victories, is quite aware of how difficult it is to follow a great round with another. So shooting 70 was hardly a surprise. The consolation is he shares the lead with Jonathan Byrd through 36 holes of the $5-million tour event at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

"I guess what I said (Thursday) kind of came true: Some days it's easy, and some days it's a little more difficult," Sluman said. "I had numerous opportunities to make at least a half dozen birdies, and I just didn't make them. I guess that's kind of the way it goes. I'm not going to complain about it. I'm still in a good position."

Sluman, 47, will be paired today with a player who was barely out of diapers when he was emerging from Florida State to play professionally. Byrd, 26, in his third year on the tour, was among those who believed the madness could not continue. He has shot consecutive 66s to tie Sluman at 132, 10 under par, but wondered how somebody could go 9 under in a single day.

"This course is not that easy," said Byrd, a two-time tour winner. "I've played really well. The guys like this golf course because it's challenging. It's an awesome golf course. The rough is miserable, absolutely miserable, so your game has got to be good. You cannot fake it around this golf course and shoot good scores. Tiger (Woods) might be able to, but most of us can't."

Woods is not here, but the world's No. 1-ranked player, Vijay Singh, is. And he's not hiding. Again.

Singh, 1 over after six holes, shot 69 to finish at 134, tied for third with Australia's Rod Pampling and Tommy Armour. "Toward the end, I started hitting more consistent shots," said Singh, 41, who is in position for his ninth tour victory this season. "These greens are pretty tough. They put the pins to where unless you're putting uphill, they are tricky putts to make. It's going to be tough. The golf course isn't getting any easier."

It was never easy for a few of the big names who failed to make the 36-hole cut, which came at 142, even par. Gone for the weekend are Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Paul Azinger, Davis Love, Hal Sutton and Rich Beem. All have won major championships.

But nearly everyone who is nervous about qualifying for next week's Tour Championship for the top 30 money winners in Atlanta is still around. Of the players ranked 25th to 34th on the money list in the field, only K.J. Choi (26th) missed the cut. Pampling, who is 30th, put himself in contention for his second victory.

"We want to make sure we give ourselves a chance for the weekend," Pampling said. "We've done that. Obviously, anyone can go out there and win the tournament and pass me. All I can do is play my own game, and hopefully at the end of the week, if someone passes me, I might make enough money to pass someone else."

Armour, 45, is the grandson of "The Great Scot," Tommy Armour, who starred in the 1920s and 1930s when he won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. He is 153rd on the money list but exempt through 2005 due to his victory last year at the Texas Open. He has just two top-25 finishes this year.

Kent Jones, 124th on the money list, put himself in excellent position to retain his playing card with a 71 that left him at 135, 7 under par, and tied for sixth with Kirk Triplett (71), Vaughn Taylor (65) and Jesper Parnevik (67). Defending champion Retief Goosen shot 73 and is 10 back at 142.

Byrd won his first tour event two years ago at the Buick Challenge, which no longer exists and was replaced by the Chrysler Championship. Byrd also won in July at the B.C. Open, played the same week as the British Open.

That was impressive given the fact Byrd had February hip surgery and missed six weeks. He is still 68th on the money list with more than $1.1-million.

"I've probably finished higher on the money list in past years," Byrd said. "But from a rewarding standpoint, it's been really rewarding to be playing poorly and then go through surgery and now playing the best golf I've ever played in my life." It's hard to argue with the kind of golf Sluman is playing. Through two rounds, he has hit 34 of 36 greens in regulation and made just one bogey. That came Friday, when he missed his only green, at the sixth hole, then could not get up and down for par.

"It was very similar (to Thursday)," Sluman said. "I just didn't feel as comfortable over those putts. And I left myself those putts that are difficult to make out here, even from a pretty short distance."

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