Originally created 03/24/01

Kelly overtakes Azinger for lead at TPC



PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Jerry Kelly, who has never won on the PGA Tour, moved into the lead at one of golf's most prestigious events Friday by shooting a 66 at The Players Championship.

Kelly's 6-under round featured an eagle on his second hole. He overtook first-round leader Paul Azinger and was at 9-under 135 in the milder morning conditions.

Kelly said he changed his aggressive style for the difficult TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course. "I played fairly safe," Kelly said. "I played smart golf, which is new to me."

Azinger shot a 70 and was a shot behind. Scott Hoch also shot a 70 and was in third place, two shots back. Jonathan Kaye was four shots behind after a 72.

Masters champion Vijay Singh, who was a stroke behind Azinger after Thursday's first round, had an afternoon tee time as winds picked up.

Tiger Woods had a memorable stretch of five birdies in six holes as he moved to 3 under for the tournament after a 69. His only mistake? An 8-iron in the water at the island green on No. 17 for a double-bogey 5.

Woods, starting on the back side, followed with birdies on his next three holes.

"It was nice to get that one back right away, then get two more," he said.

That used to happen all the time at Sawgrass, said Hoch, who skipped one year becasue he didn't think the course was hard enough.

That's when Sawgrass "figured out they had to make it tougher," Hoch said. "And the way to make it tougher without getting ridiculous is to add rough."

Since they did, Hoch's play here has improved dramatically. He had only two rounds in the 60s between 1981-95, but has broken it six times in 21 rounds since.

He was runner-up to Steve Elkington in 1997, and has had three top-five finishes in that span.

"I went from not cashing a check for 10 years to finishing second because they had rough. Then my attitude changed and I played well," said Hoch, who second-round 70 Friday left him four shots behind leader Jerry Kelly.

Hoch doesn't kid himself. He knows his drives are long irons for guys like Woods. So the more gnarly the rough, the better Hoch feels his accuracy can help him outshoot the young power hitters.

"All I want is some rough that if people hit a poor shot, they are penalized for it," Hoch said.

Hoch pretty much got his wish, staying clear of the meanest grass with seven birdies and two bogeys.

"And those bogeys came after what I thought were two good shots," he said.

Hoch's highlights included a near hole-in-one on the famous island green at No. 17 -- he tapped in for birdie from 4 inches away -- that moved him within 2 shots of the lead.

Then, finishing his round on the front nine, he made consecutive birdies on the fifth and sixth holes to wind up a shot behind.

Azinger led the way with a bogey-free 66. He started with three straight birdies, then made another three straight at Nos. 8-9-10 to stay in front.

Asked what he thought of his start, he said, "Oh, my God, I might make 18 of those."

Azinger made putts of 25, 10 and 8 feet his first three holes. He rolled in a 35-footer for birdie on the par-3 eighth, hit a sand wedge to 4 feet on No. 9 for another, then made a 15-foot putt on the 10th for his final birdie.

"That was a nice start for a change," said Azinger, who shot his lowest round of the year.

Singh was the best of the morning group, with birdies on his final two holes -- the eighth and ninth.

If Hoch wanted things difficult, he got it in the first round. The average score on the Stadium Course was 73.37, the highest first-round scoring on the PGA Tour this year.

"If we had to play a golf course this difficult every week, there would be a lot of guys retiring of heart failure at age 40," said Billy Mayfair, at 68 along with Robert Allenby and Skip Kendall.

The tournament began without 1999 champ David Duval, who withdrew Thursday morning because of tendinitis in his right wrist. Duval, whose status for the Masters in two weeks is uncertain, first felt the injury earlier this month while practicing.

Chris Perry withdrew with a stomach virus. Tommy Armour III shot a 44, including a quintuple-bogey 9 on his ninth hole, the 18th, and walked off the course.