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Chrysler Championship

Copperhead special for leader Brehaut

Last year, a slippery putt in the Chrysler Championship lifted his spirits and career.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
Published October 28, 2005

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Defending Chrysler champion Vijay Singh, exiting the rough at No. 9, had his worst score (3-over 74) in nine rounds at Copperhead.
Course map
Lehman eyes captain/player role in Ryder Cup
Parneviks survive Wilma, then leave town
The 19th hole
Today on TV: 4-6 p.m., USA

PALM HARBOR - Sometimes the goals are modest and not all about victories.

The stories usually center on the prolific winners, the big money-earners, the hotshot rookies ready to make their move. They often overlook the guys who are the lifeblood of the PGA Tour, the ones who trudge from town to town, searching for their games, rarely in the spotlight.

Jeff Brehaut would fit that description. He is 42, has never won on the PGA Tour, and a year ago found himself fighting for his livelihood at the Chrysler Championship.

The short version is Brehaut survived, spurring him on to his best season ever. That continued with a 6-under-par 65 Thursday on the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook Resort, giving him a two-shot lead.

"I putted better (this year), I got on a little roll," said Brehaut, who is in his sixth season on the PGA Tour. "I felt a little more confident. A little more comfortable being in the top 10, that position, trying to play to win. I just made a few more putts really. That was about it."

It was one putt in particular last year that helped put him in this position. One 4-foot putt on the 18th green, the last day of the Chrysler tournament. One putt he knew he needed.

There was no such pressure Thursday on a clear, cool day at Innisbrook, where the $5.3-million tournament got off to a nice start with a smattering of upstarts and veterans dotting the leaderboard.

Five players were tied for second, two strokes behind Brehaut at 67: 2003 Chrysler champion Retief Goosen, 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, Charles Howell, Dean Wilson and Ben Crane.

Nine more were at 68, including Davis Love, Jesper Parnevik, Rocco Mediate and Bernhard Langer. In all, there were 32 players under par.

But defending champion Vijay Singh was not one of them. Singh, who missed the cut last week at the Funai Classic, was 1 under for his round when he hit his tee shot in the water at the par-4 16th, leading to double bogey 6. He then bogeyed the last two holes for 3-over 74. It was his worst score in nine trips around the Copperhead.

And it shows what can happen here if a player is not careful.

"I'm impressed with the golf course," said Lehman, who was making his first appearance at the Chrysler Championship. "The golf course is an A-plus. It's tough. It's fair. It demands great course management. You've got to hit it solid, and you've got to put it in the fairway. That's the biggest thing out here, you put the ball in the fairway, you've got a chance to score. If you put it in the rough, you're going to be struggling."

Brehaut was struggling when he got to Innisbrook a year ago.

Playing in his 11th consecutive event, well outside the top 125 on the money list required for exempt status this year, Brehaut had a small goal to accomplish. If he could move inside the top 150 on the money list, he'd at least remain a tour member. And he'd get to bypass the second stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament and go directly to the finals.

At the 72nd hole of the tournament Brehaut realized he needed to make a birdie. He stuck his approach to 4 feet.

"It all came down to the last putt," he recalled. "It was probably the fastest putt on the course, downhill left to right. I made it. It felt pretty good."

Good enough to propel him to a victory in an offseason event at Pebble Beach. And good enough to propel him to a 13th-place finish at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, which gave him exempt status for this year.

He took advantage, posting four top-10s, including his career best third at the International. He has earned $1,120,374 to rank 61st on the money list.

And while this week is no vacation, it sure is a lot nicer for Brehaut, who can enjoy the scenery and perhaps challenge for his first tour victory. He has come a long way in one year.

Perhaps one putt made the difference to a guy you don't hear much about.

"If you are lucky enough to make it, you try to kind of embrace that memory," said Brehaut, who had an eagle, five birdies and just one bogey Thursday. "The next time you have a putt like that to make the cut or to finish top-10 or whatever, you kind of say, it's like that one I had last year at Innisbrook. So you are trying to have as many of the good memories as you can store in your brain as possible, and spit out the bad ones."

[Last modified October 28, 2005, 01:46:02]

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