Originally created 03/15/03

Injuries behind him, Begay atop leaderboard again



PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Although it might seem unfamiliar, Notah Begay III felt right at home atop the leaderboard at the Honda Classic.

Begay shot a 5-under 67 in Friday's second round to take a share of the lead with David Peoples at 14-under 130 when play was suspended because of darkness.

Begay is a highly confident four-time winner on the PGA Tour who also played on Stanford's 1994 national championship team. But after finishing the 2000 season ranked 20th on the money list, he battled back problems for two years, and he didn't lead a tournament heading into the weekend until Friday.

"It's just a symbolic accomplishment for me, knowing that I've bested the field the first two days, and going into the weekend I have a real great opportunity to win the golf tournament," Begay said. "It's just a matter of maintaining position, staying focused and reassuring myself that all the ills and the pain, mentally and physically, that I've dealt with over the last couple of years is in the past."

Davis Love III, the only player in the tournament who's among the top 10 in the world rankings, heads a long list of golfers within striking distance of the lead. Love (65), Tom Byrum (64) and Esteban Toledo (67) were 13 under.

Tim Herron, Jerry Kelly, John Huston and Jeff Brehaut were two strokes back. Kelly tied a tournament record with a 10-under 62. He one-putted the first 10 holes and was 10 under with four holes to play - and thinking about tying the PGA Tour record of 59.

"You have to think birdie on every hole," Kelly said. "You can't play par golf. There's not many tournaments out here anymore where you can, but there are some. This isn't one of them."

At 7,157 yards, The Country Club at Mirasol is too short for today's top players. It has fast fairways, well-manicured greens and so far little wind - the course's only defense.

Players are hitting 3-woods off the tee and wedges into most of the par 4s. The average score in the first round was 69.9. After more than 2 inches of rain fell Thursday night, the course got even easier, with the average score dropping to 68.5 in the second round.

"This doesn't have anything to do with technology," Love said. "This has to do with playing a short, easy golf course. It's a different kind of mental game that we don't play a whole lot."

The course wasn't built for a PGA Tour event. It's a members' course, with the club's tour course still under construction. Tom Fazio is designing the Sunrise Course, which will open next year with tour pros specifically in mind.

Thirty-four players were at least 10 under when play was suspended. Fourteen players were on the course when play was halted. They will finish the second round Saturday morning but are not expected to affect the projected cut of 6 under - which would tie the tour record set at last year's Disney Golf Classic.

John Daly, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Azinger, Chris DiMarco and Ty Tryon were among those who missed the cut.

Because rain is forecast for Saturday afternoon, tee times were moved up and players were grouped in threesomes and scheduled to go off the front and back 9 to start the third round.

That's fine with Begay, especially since he's in the final pairing.

A bulging disc allowed him to play just 12 events over the last two years. He made just four cuts in 2001, then missed the first 11 cuts last year before finishing in a tie for 33rd at the Greater Hartford Open in June.

He went from 20th on the money list in 2000 to 197th in 2001 and 108th last year. His endorsement deal with Nike expired this week, and he has no equipment deal. He wore a plain white cap Thursday and a plain black one Friday.

Nonetheless, he's right where he wants to be.

"I'm not afraid to win," he said. "That's my objective. I'm not superstitious. You either go out and try to win or you don't. It's kill or be killed, essentially."

Divots: David Beighle, caddie for Neal Lancaster, will spend another night in the hospital after collapsing during his round Thursday. Beighle had been taking a diet supplement, but Lancaster said it did not contain ephedra. ... Shigeki Maruyama (neck) and Tag Ridings withdrew before the second round. ... The previous Honda low cut was 4 under in 1989 at the TPC at Eagle Trace. ... Glen Day leads the tour with 11 consecutive rounds of par or better.