Stadler holds SAS lead with five birdies for second-round 68

Saturday, September 25th 2004, 5:53 pm
By: News On 6

CARY, N.C. (AP) _ Craig Stadler already is atop the Champions Tour money list, and now he's poised to become the first tour player in more than six years to win three consecutive tournaments.

It was the last thing on his mind as he shot a 4-under-par 68 Saturday that left him with a four-stroke lead after two rounds of the $1.8 million SAS Championship.

``It's not anything I'm thinking about,'' said Stadler, who boasts 10 top-10 finishes in 17 events this year. ``I'm pretty comfortable right now and not making too many mistakes. You get in the zone where you just go out and play, and that's what I'm doing.''

Stadler, already tops on the tour's money list with earnings of $1,909,666, followed Friday's opening-round 65 with birdies on five of his final 12 holes Saturday, leaving him at 133 after two trips around the par-72, 7,129-yard Prestonwood Country Club course.

Tom Jenkins carded the day's low round, a 7-under 65, and was alone in second place at 137. Three Champions Tour regulars _ Stewart Ginn, John Harris and defending champion D.A. Weibring _ were tied for third at 139.

Stadler, who won in his previous two starts _ the JELD-WEN Tradition and the First Tee Open _ could become the first Champions Tour player since Gil Morgan in 1997-98 to win three consecutive starts. He also won the Bank of America Classic in late June.

As on Friday, Stadler's round began slowly. He missed three of his first six greens and stood 1-over through six holes after bogeying the 421-yard, par-4 fourth.

``I'm having a hard time getting going,'' he said. ``I'm hitting a lot of good shots, but I've been misclubbing and leaving myself long or short. That happens for a few holes, then I get things going.''

He two-putted for birdie on the 561-yard, par-5 seventh, then closed his front nine by draining a 12-footer for birdie on the par-4 ninth.

Stadler added three birdies coming in. Coupled with a sizzling back nine on Friday, he's played those 18 holes over the two days in 7-under.

Jenkins, who won the Blue Angels Classic in mid-May, was bogey-free in his 65, a round highlighted by an eagle on the 505-yard, par-5 17th after he hit a 5-wood second shot from 226 yards to within 10 feet.

As is his custom, Jenkins never looked at a scoreboard and said he was stunned to find himself in second place.

``When I saw that 7-under was in second place, I was surprised,'' he said. ``These are tougher than normal greens to putt, and when guys can't make putts, they can't score.''

Jenkins noted that he'd likely need to match Saturday's round on Sunday in order to catch Stadler, who's won all three times on the Champions Tour when he's taken a lead into the final round.

``I always know I have birdies in me,'' said Jenkins. ``I'm the kind of guy that can go out and get hot and shoot 62 or 63.''

Larry Nelson, Wayne Levi and Lonnie Nielsen are at 140, seven strokes off the lead. In all, 21 players are within 10 shots of Stadler, whose four-stroke lead matches the largest 36-hole advantage on the Champions Tour this year.

Raymond Floyd, a native of nearby Fayetteville, won the first-place prize check of $30,000 in the Georgia-Pacific Grand Champions Competition (for players 60 and older), following a first-round 70 with an even-par 72. His total of 142 was two shots better than Jim Dent and Jay Sigel.