Originally created 03/15/03

Short course plays into players' hands

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Ernie Els' freshly minted PGA Tour scoring record is on the endangered list.

Halfway through the Honda Classic, the field is taking dead aim at the 31-under-par total Els shot in the season-opening Mercedes Championships 10 weeks ago.

Players continued to dismantle the Country Club of Mirasol's Sunset Course in Friday's second round.

The short course, which is being used for one year until the more challenging Sunrise Course is ready, remained defenseless because of the lack of wind.

Leading the birdiefest are Notah Begay and David Peoples at 14-under 130. Begay has shot 63-67 and Peoples has turned in a pair of 65s. They have combined for 27 birdies, two eagles and three bogeys through the first 36 holes.

Davis Love III (65 on Friday), Tom Byrum (64) and Esteban Toledo (67) are one shot off the lead.

Three players are two shots off the lead, including Jeff Brehaut, one of 14 players who did not complete the second round because of darkness. Brehaut has three holes left in his second round.

Augusta native Charles Howell has shot 69-68-137 and is seven shots off the lead.

"We haven't played a golf course like this since the course Chip Beck shot 59 on," said Love, referring to Sunrise Golf Club, where Beck tied the PGA Tour's single-round record in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational.

Scoring has been so low that the cut is projected to fall at 6-under. That would be the lowest by two shots on the tour this year.

"Some guys shot 5-under and don't get play on the weekend; that just blows my mind. Everybody's going nuts," said Mark O'Meara, who shot 66 on Friday and is four shots off the lead.

Imagine if more of the tour's top players, such as the No. 2-ranked Els, were in the field. Love, who is No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is the event's only top-10 player.

Begay, a rising star when he won four times between 1999-2000, has battled back from annular tears in two discs in his lower back. The injury caused him to miss the cut in 23 of 38 starts in 2001 and 2002.

As his round was nearing a close Friday, Begay knew he needed to make a move if he expected to make it into the today's final pairing. He did just that, making eagle on the par-5 17th hole by sinking an 18-foot putt.

"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 great opportunity to win the tournament," Begay said.

Peoples, who has won twice on the tour, in 1991 and 1992, downplayed the fact he's in the final group.

"I'm not trying to make it a big thing about it in my mind that I'm tied for the lead because there's 36 holes left to play, and there's going to be a lot more birdies," the low-key Peoples said.

Begay is at the other end of the emotional spectrum.

"I love the friction," Begay said. "I live for it. That's the beauty of professional sports: you have guys that love the pressure and thrive under the pressure, and you have others that don't. I'm not saying that I haven't had my failures, but give me that chance to fail, and I guarantee you I'm going to make the best of it."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.


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