Originally created 07/15/06

Birdie barrage lifts Ozaki



DEARBORN, Mich. - The TPC of Michigan was ripe for the picking, and Joe Ozaki was more than happy to oblige.

The Champions Tour rookie from Japan made a record-tying eight birdies in a row and was atop the leaderboard at 9 under when rain stopped play during the second round of the Senior Players Championship on Friday.

Ozaki started the string of birdies by chipping in from just off the green at No. 2. He made four putts of at least 12 feet, including a 25-footer on No. 8.

Ozaki said through an interpreter that he didn't realize the magnitude of his achievement until his tournament-record seventh consecutive birdie on No. 8.

The run ended when he missed the green at No. 10 and settled for a par. He birdied No. 11, bogeyed the 12th and was facing an 8-foot birdie putt at the par-5 13th when play was stopped.

"It would have been nice to finish today," Ozaki said. "Tomorrow, the conditions will probably be completely different."

The field hopes they stay exactly the same.

Thanks to heavy rain earlier in the week, the course on Thursday and Friday allowed tee shots to stop dead in the fairway and putts to roll harmlessly toward the cup.

"I don't think you're going to see any very high scores among the leaders that are in contention come Sunday just because the golf course is in such perfect condition and it's very receptive to shooting low scores if you play well," said Jerry Pate, who joined five others, including Tom Watson and 1998 champion Gil Morgan, in the clubhouse one stroke back at 8 under.

But it was the little-known Ozaki who made the biggest splash.

The younger brother of Japanese star Jumbo Ozaki birdied Nos. 2-9, equaling the Champions Tour mark held by Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jim Colbert and Dana Quigley and breaking the tournament record of six consecutive birdies.

Ozaki's 28 on the front nine was one shot off the record for nine holes at a Champions Tour event. Jay Sigel and Seiji Ebihara each shot 27 - Sigel at the 1998 Bell Atlantic Classic and Ebihara in the 2002 Senior PGA Championship.

Ozaki turned 50 in May and is making only his sixth start on the tour.

"Every year here it seems like almost everyone is between 5 and 8 under after two rounds. You might have one guy get to 10 or 12, but everybody else is right where I am now," said Watson, the winner of four majors on the Champions Tour and a second-place finisher at last week's U.S. Senior Open in Kansas.

David Edwards, Mike Reid and Don Pooley joined Pate, Watson and Morgan at 8 under. Pate carded a bogey-free 65 - a score he said could have been as low as 59 with a little better touch with his putter.