1999 winner Franco back on top in Milwaukee

Friday, July 23rd 2004, 5:57 am
By: News On 6

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Carlos Franco hates to practice. He showed up at Brown Deer Park Friday and didn't hit a shot at the range before teeing off.

He didn't need to.

Franco tied his best round on the PGA Tour with a 7-under 63 to take the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Bank Championship with a 9-under 131 total, one shot ahead of steady Rich Beem. Scott Hoch (65), Bo Van Pelt (68) and Patrick Sheehan (68) were two shots back at 133.

``When I came here in 1999, 100 percent no practice,'' said Franco, who won the event formerly known as the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1999.

Franco's last win came at the 2000 COMPAQ Classic of New Orleans, and his fond memories of Milwaukee began to fade with finishes of 70th, 25th, 68th and 32nd in the years since winning the GMO. The common denominator? Practice, said Franco. Too much work and not enough play.

Franco said he gets good-natured grief from Vijay Singh, the notorious practice advocate, for his just-play philosophy.

``He tells me, 'Practice more, practice more.' I say, 'I don't like it. Maybe I need it, but I don't like it,''' Franco said. ``I'd rather go fishing.''

And that's exactly what he's been doing on a pond at a friend's farm all week.

Beem, who carded a second straight 66, isn't a big practicer, either. He said Franco's non-practice habits are celebrated, but maybe a little bit exaggerated, too.

``He probably practices more than he leads on. The guy's so talented it's unbelievable. You don't get that good without practicing a little bit,'' Beem said. ``I think the way he practices is probably by playing more.''

Beem, who stared down Tiger Woods on the back nine at Hazeltine to win the 2002 PGA Championship, said it's nice to have a polar opposite to Singh's style on Tour.

``They say practice makes perfect, the harder you work, the better you get. Yes and no. I mean, you can sit here and grind yourself into the dirt all you want to. But I don't think that works for everybody,'' Beem said.

Certainly not for Franco, who had eight birdies to go with one bogey and fired a 30 on the front nine.

``It's no complication,'' Franco said of his worry-free round. ``Hope every day's the same.''

Van Pelt and Sheehan were among a record-tying eight golfers who teed off Friday as the co-leaders after 18 holes. But they had trickier winds and firmer greens than those who went off in the morning.

The other first-round leaders all faltered, especially Brian Kortan, who followed his 65 Thursday with a 9-over 79 and wasn't among the 86 golfers who made the cut at 1-over 141.

Danny Briggs, Olin Browne and Todd Fischer each shot 70 and were tied for eighth at 135. Robert Gamez and Brett Quigley shot 71s and were tied for 14th.

The 2000 Honda Classic had the only other eight-way tie for first after one round, according to the PGA Tour, which began keeping such statistics in 1970.

Defending champion Kenny Perry (67) also was five shots off the lead and tied for 14th.

Hoch is a two-time winner in Milwaukee.

``It feels good to be back here. When I play well, this is a good stop for me,'' said Hoch, a two-time winner in Milwaukee.

At 48, and a 25-year veteran of the PGA Tour, Hoch is a throwback to another epoch when more golf courses on the circuit were like Brown Deer Park, the site of his wins in 1995 and '97.

At 6,759 yards, the layout is among the shortest on Tour, putting a premium on iron play and putting while neutralizing the long hitters, especially with its rugged rough.

``Nothing fancy about the course. Not gimmicky, not TPC-ish where it's goofy and the long ball means everything,'' Hoch said. ``When I first came out on Tour, we had a lot of courses where you had to move the ball and distance wasn't the primary thing.''

Now, Hoch said, the philosophy is ``hit it long and go find it,'' with no thick rough as a deterrent.

Not at Brown Deer, though.

``If you hit it in the rough, you can't do much with it,'' Hoch said. ``People talk about Tiger-proofing golf courses, but rough is the great equalizer. Here, you don't get a free pass if you hit it off line.''

Beem said the key to his steady play has been staying out of the rough.

``If you drive it sideways,'' he said, ``you're going to run into some serious thick hay.''