PALM HARBOR, Fla. - Jeff Sluman and Jonathan Byrd were tied for the lead at the Chrysler Championship, both knowing the tournament really doesn't start until the weekend.
For Paul Azinger, Olin Browne and a host of others, their season ended Friday.
Sluman was eight shots worse than his course-record 62 in the opening round, missing a half-dozen good looks at birdie but still playing solidly from tee to green for a 1-under 70. Byrd blitzed the back nine for the second straight day and shot another 66.
"Some days it's easy, and some days it's a little more difficult," said Sluman, who never had the lead to himself in the second round and wound up tied with Byrd at 10-under 132.
In the final full-field tournament of the year, perhaps it was no surprise that the top five guys already have their cards locked up for next year, with no worries about where they are on the money list.
Vijay Singh, moving closer to a $10 million year, had a 69 and was only two shots behind. Also at 8-under 134 was International winner Rod Pampling (65) and Tommy Armour III (64), exempt through 2005 for his record-setting victory last year in the Texas Open.
"You certainly shouldn't be surprised to see Vijay up there," Sluman said of the No. 1 player in golf who is going for his sixth victory in his last eight starts.
The real shock was Azinger, one of several players who had their bubbles burst at Innisbrook.
Azinger is No. 123 on the money list and opened with a 75. He played hard and got to 1 under, seemingly safe to make the cut at even par. But he missed the green on the par-3 8th, his 17th hole, and took a bogey.
He ripped a good drive on 9, but his 8-iron to 40 feet left him a difficult putt that swung sharply to the right. Azinger knocked that some 12 feet by, and he missed the par putt for a 68 to miss the cut by one shot.
Azinger walked briskly out of the scoring trailer and screamed in disgust.
"You hate to see that," said Sluman, who played with Azinger. "I'm sure he'll beat himself up over that."
Browne, No. 125 on the money list, shot a 77 and must wait two days to see if anyone passes him.
Kent Jones (No. 124) had an even-par 71 and was at 135. Instead of worrying about keeping a job, he can now think about winning his first tournament. Also at 135 were Kirk Triplett (71), Vaughn Taylor (65) and Jesper Parnevik (67).
Among those missing the cut was Masters champion Phil Mickelson after a 76. Lefty has played only twice since the Ryder Cup. He got food poisoning in Las Vegas and had to withdraw after two rounds, and he missed his second cut of the year at Innisbrook. At least he improved from last year, when he shot rounds of 80-74.
"I don't know what to say," Mickelson said. "It's a tough course for me to play well on, mainly because I don't read the greens very well. But it's a wonderful event. I'm just sorry I didn't play better."
Some guys didn't play well and were downright disgusted.
Azinger and Browne were helped by the fact that seven guys behind him missed the cut or didn't play.
Dean Wilson (No. 133) shot a 68 and was at 2-under 142, needing at least 20th place to pass Browne. Glen Day, who has never lost his card in 10 years on tour, revived his chances with a 70 and was at 141.
The real threat could be Armour, at No. 153 on the money list with no worries. He won the Texas Open last year, so Armour is exempt through next year. Plus, he's handling the Copperhead course at Innisbrook just fine.
Armour made all seven birdies inside 15 feet to soar into contention, strange territory for him this year. Aside from his putting, he didn't have any good explanations for his mediocre play.
"Hitting too many times," Armour said.
Byrd isn't hitting many shots on the back nine. He had a 31 in the first round on his way to a 66, and surged to the top of the leaderboard Friday morning with five birdies for a 30 on the back nine.
That kind of karma could come in handy on the weekend.
Another victory likely would get Byrd into the Tour Championship and complete a remarkable year. He had hip surgery in February that kept him out for six weeks, and kept him from playing well for a month after he returned. Then, he won the B.C. Open in July.
"I've finished higher on the money list," said Byrd, who is at No. 68. "But it's been really rewarding to be playing poorly, then going through a surgery and now playing the best golf I've ever played in my life."
Divots: Steve Allan shot 74 and was the low man in his threesome by a mile. Hank Kuehne shot 81, while Joe Ogilvie shot an 84. Ogilvie was hopeful of finishing in the top 40 to get into the Masters, but he missed the cut in his final two tournaments, with 74-75 at Disney and 80-84 at Innisbrook.... It took Robert Allenby about 15 hours to make the trip from West Palm Beach to Tampa. He brought his 61-foot yacht, navigated across the state through Lake Okeechobee over three days. He and his family are staying on the boat, which is docked in nearby Clearwater.... Mathias Gronberg won't get his PGA Tour card next year, but he got a consolation prize Friday - a car from making a hole-in-one on 15. "It's halfway there and he didn't say, 'Get in the hole,'" Byrd said. "He says, 'Car.'"
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