Tiger Woods and Ernie Els sat on adjacent benches in the locker room as they changed out of their golf shoes after spending three hours on the course, a short day of work at the Bay Hill Invitational.
Thirty players, including second-ranked Vijay Singh, had to play 36 holes on Friday in a tournament delayed by rain and desperately trying to get caught up. Singh loved every minute it, especially when he holed a 9-iron from 139m for eagle that left him one shot behind Charles Howell III and Stephen Ames.
Now they can relax.
Today belongs primarily to Woods, Els and 82 other players who must show up at dawn and won't be able to leave until dusk as everyone tries to sort out who's in control of the tournament.
The leaderboard shows Howell and Ames with scores of 71-68 at the top with a 5-under 139. Singh is right behind, thanks to an eagle on his 35th hole of the day.
"Our side got the better end of the draw because we do get to rest a little bit more, and that's fine," Howell said. "The fact that I won't have to do 36 in a day again the rest of the week ... we got the better side of it."
Woods and Els were each at 71 and scheduled to tee off at 7:45am Saturday to start the second round, along with US Open champion Retief Goosen (78).
Others weren't so fortunate.
British Open champion Todd Hamilton, Tom Lehman and Chad Campbell were introduced on the tee as the 6:30pm group, which was amusing since the sun went down about 5 minutes later. They got in one hole and all made par.
Then there was Vaughn Taylor, who made a double bogey on his 17th hole and then heard the siren sound to stop play because of darkness. Now he gets to return at 7:15am Saturday to play one hole, then stick around for the next six hours to see if he makes the cut.
This kind of week can fray the nerves.
Howell could deal with it. He's only 25 years old and had no trouble walking 36 holes, especially with someone else carrying his bag. He used to routinely go 36 holes a day in college, and about the only thing missing Friday was having Oklahoma State coach Mike Holder watching from behind the ropes.
"I made the turn [after the first round], they handed me a sandwich and told me to keep going," Howell said. "It was college golf. I got a boxed ham-and-cheese sandwich, a bag of potato chips and `Here's your new scorecard.'"
He did much better with the second card.
After opening with his seventh consecutive round of 71 at Bay Hill, Howell improved his iron play and made seven birdies, none of them outside 12 feet. He never graduated from Oklahoma State, but stuck around long enough to learn the difference between his two rounds.
"I managed to get the ball a little bit closer," Howell said.
Ames did the same, but over a shorter span of holes. He birdied five of six holes on the back nine and became the first player to reach 6 under par on a difficult course before back-to-back bogeys when he made the turn. Ames closed with four straight pars for a 68 and joined Howell at 5-under 139.
Singh couldn't make a putt. Then he didn't have to.
From 139m away on the eighth hole -- his 17th of the day -- his 9-iron went in for eagle. He could see it go in as the sun set over Arnold Palmer's course, but couldn't see much on the 18th when he missed a 2m shot for birdie that would have given him a share of the early lead.
Woods and Els produced a few good moments during their short time at Bay Hill. Woods was poised to take a share of the lead until his 3m birdie putt lipped out on the 13th, and then he couldn't make another putt until his 2m for par on the 18th that avoided a dubious finish. He shot 71.
Els was five shots behind Woods with five holes to play, but managed to catch him by starting to make putts. Goosen hit two balls out-of-bounds and looked out of sorts most of the round.
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