Sat, Mar 10, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Kresge seizes control in Florida

WHO'S LAUGHING NOW? Best known for falling into a lake during a 2000 qualifying tournament, Cliff Kresge is the surprise leader of the US$5.3 million Pods Championship

AFP , PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA

Cliff Kresge blasts out of the sand trap on the 18th hole during the first round of the Pods Championship golf tournament in Palm Harbor, Florida, on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Unheralded Cliff Kresge fired a six-under-par 65 in Florida on Thursday to seize the first-round lead in the US$5.3 million Pods Championship.

While Kresge couldn't maintain the momentum that saw him move as low as eight-under through 11 holes, he emerged from the first round with a two-shot lead over Sweden's Daniel Chopra and Americans Arron Oberholser, Anthony Kim and Doug LaBelle.

"For 11 holes it was a dream round," said the 36-year-old journeyman from New Jersey. "I drove it down the middle and hit every iron right at the flag. And I didn't really make any putts until I got to No. 11, where I made a 10-footer for eagle."

Kresge admitted he was "maybe playing a little too protective" down the stretch and he paid the price with bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes.

His round was highlighted by an eagle at the par-4 sixth, where he holed a 5-iron from 184 yards, not that there was much of a cheer from the gallery, because there wasn't one at that stage.

"Charlie Wi [a fellow competitor] said `what's going on out here? You're lapping the field and there are no cameras, nothing,'" Kresge said. "I said it's probably better that way."

Although Kresge was a little disappointed with his finish, his round was another positive step considering he has never finished better than third in 113 starts on the PGA Tour.

He has started this year promisingly, making the cut in all six starts.

Kresge accepts that for now he is known primarily for an incident at the 2000 Qualifying Tournament, where he fell into a lake next to the ninth green while lining up a putt during the final round.

He is willing to talk about it, mainly because it had a happy ending.

He climbed out of the water, donned his rain pants and, in a soaked shirt, played the back nine well enough to earn his card.

"Every time I do something good, somebody is going to bring it up," he said. "If that thing did anything, it hardened me a lot. I was determined not to let the fact I fell in the water keep me from getting my card and, for once in my life, I didn't really get in my way. I stepped on the gas and played the last nine holes like you are supposed to."

Chopra couldn't match Kresge's hot start, but the Swede finished strongly, 4-under over the final 10 holes.

He was more than happy with that, not least because he is still tired after last week's windswept Honda Classic, where he was in contention late into the final round before finishing tied eighth, two shots off the pace.

He was a regular on leaderboards last year, posting six top-10 finishes. Only a poor final round scoring average of 72.3 prevented him from finishing higher than 54th on the money list.

"Once I get that first win under my belt, it will be a bit like David Duval, who when he won just kept on going," Chopra predicted. "I don't want to say I'm waiting for a lucky break, but I think you need something like that to happen in your first win, unless you are winning by six or seven strokes."

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