Originally created 04/28/01

Sposa wrestles lead from Simpson at Greensboro



GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Fitting in on the PGA Tour is important to Mike Sposa. Mission accomplished at the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic on Friday.

Sposa, in his third full season, made a 2-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to close out a 6-under-par 66 for a one-shot lead over Scott Simpson after two rounds of the $3.5 million event.

Sposa had a 10-under 134 total. Simpson, the first-round leader, shot a 69.

Five others are another shot back at 136, including Scott Hoch and Jeff Maggert. Hoch had his second straight 68, while Maggert shot a 67 during a beautiful sunny day at Forest Oaks Country Club.

"This is going to sound strange, but I had to win $20,000 more going into this year to move myself into a better category for tee times and I did it in the first tournament," said Sposa, who played with veteran Jim Gallagher and Matt Goggin.

"Just by getting the better pairings, playing with the better players, it gave me a feeling of belonging and no so much like I was on the outside visiting."

Sposa's 66 matched his best round of the season and gave him his first lead on tour after two rounds.

"I'm just trying to stay real calm and not get ahead of myself," the 31-year-old player said. "I've been out here for three years now so I know this thing is so far from over that for me to start talking about victory speeches would be ridiculous."

He's right.

Sposa's best career finish was a tie for seventh last year in the Houston Open, and there are 23 players within four shots of his lead after 36 holes.

However, he's confident he has the tools to nail down his first win.

"Certainly in my mind I'm ready to win out here," Sposa said. "I don't play to keep my card. I want to win and I want people to know who I am. I'm not going to be intimidated by the chance to win. I'm playing for that chance."

Sposa's putter has been very good the first two days. He's tied for the tourney lead with a putting average of 1.278.

"I'm making a lot of putts and that's key to any good week," he said. "Hopefully, my putter can stay hot."

After shooting a 4-under 32 on the front, Sposa took the lead at the par-5 15th with a birdie, then fell into a tie with Simpson after a bogey two holes later.

But his 7-iron approach to the 18th green landed 2 feet from the cup and he calmly sank it for the lead.

Meanwhile, Simpson followed up his opening-round 66 with another solid round.

"It has been so long since I have been in contention maybe it would be good for me to try to visualize winning," said Simpson.

He missed all of last year when a December 1999 skiing accident in Utah led to August surgery and months on the shelf.

Doctors told Simpson, 45, it might take two years to fully rebound from surgery on his right ankle, which now has seven screws and a plate in it.

But the former U.S. Open champion, just eight months after the major operation, has a chance to win his eighth PGA Tour event -- with a noticeable limp.

"I've gotten some e-mails from friends and stuff like that," Simpson said of his attempt at a full comeback. "And it was fun talking to home. My son was kind of excited for me. Dad is usually such a dork, but he actually had to say, `Geez dad, good playing.' That was kind of neat."

Also tied at 8-under 136 with Hoch and Maggert were Omar Uresti, David Berganio Jr. and Rich Beem.

Hoch is upset the tour has gone to shorter rough at some courses this season, saying such setups don't put a premium on accuracy off the tee -- one of his strengths.

"I wasn't sure I was going to come here until I checked the computer about the weather," said Hoch, who graduated from nearby Wake Forest but hasn't been a regular at this event. "I just wish on the computer it would have said: `Not much rough.'

"If I had found out that the rough was like it was, it would not have been in my benefit to come. But it works out in strange ways. Maybe I can get lucky this week and something good can happen."

Hoch birdied four straight holes early in his round to move into contention in a field that started with just 17 of the top 50 money leaders on tour.

Meanwhile, Uresti, who finished tied for eighth here last year, moved up the leaderboard Friday with a 7-under 65, which tied for the best round of the tourney.

Berganio shot a second-round 66, while Beem matched Uresti's 65.