Originally created 04/24/04

Engler's comeback hits weekend



McCORMICK, S.C. - No matter what happens in the final two rounds of the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic, John Engler now knows he'll be able to resume his professional golf career.

In his first tournament since being in a near-fatal car accident more than a year ago, Engler fired 1-under-par 71 on Friday to make the cut in the NGA/Hooters Tour event.

Engler, who opened with 73, is at 144, one shot above the cut line.

Engler's unlikely return to competition has overshadowed the rest of the tournament, which is being led by Simon Nash and Greg Boyette. They are at 9-under 135 through two trips over the Monticello Golf Club at Savannah Lakes Village.

Before the accident, making a cut wasn't much of an accomplishment for Engler, who turned pro in 2001. It was Friday.

"Right now I think we achieved a major goal, for myself, my family and my doctors," said Engler, who suffered a compound fracture in his right ankle in the accident and wasn't able to walk nine holes until a month ago.

After his opening round, Engler met with his physical therapist, Lonnie Hergott, and told him there were some shots he hit that caused pain in the ankle, and that he wasn't turning through shots as much as he wanted.

Hergott worked with Engler on Friday morning and suggested a stretching exercise he could use between shots. Engler would kneel on his right knee, put his hands behind his head and lean back, stretching his right hip.

"It's amazing how much your hip is connected to your ankle," said Engler, who felt no pain while he played Friday. "Those stretches really helped me."

They also improved Engler's ballstriking, which led to five birdies.

"I hit the ball a lot better; even my caddie, Matt McKnight, noticed it," Engler said.

More importantly, after the round, Engler was showing no ill effects from being on the ankle for more than five hours. He declined a ride to the scorer's tent after he finished, and chose to stand during a 15-minute post-round interview.

"I feel like I could go play some more," Engler said. "I still feel fresh."

The second round fell on the 13-month anniversary of the two-car accident, which killed the two people in the other car. Engler was alone in his SUV, which burst into flames soon after he was pulled to safety.

In contrast to the opening round, Engler didn't fade this time on the final nine. He started on the back nine and shot even-par 36. He came home in 1-under 35 with bogeys on Nos. 2 and 5 and birdies on Nos. 3, 4 and 7.

"I was playing so good all day and kept the momentum going," Engler said. "I started thinking really good ... like a golfer thinks. I was in a scoring mode with my mind. Yesterday, with it being my first 18 holes walking, I was a little nervous.

"Today, I took some of the focus off my ankle. I was grinding, I was hitting great golf shots. My mind was thinking correctly again for the first time. It was golf; all the cobwebs got knocked off."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3425

or david.westin@augustachronicle.com