Trying to shake a reputation


Friday, March 7th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



MIAMI (AP) _ Rod Pampling manhandled the Blue Monster with tap-in birdies on par 5s and wedges into about 10 feet on other holes, an 8-under 64 that was so good that he was asked if anything in particular stood out.

``Not really,'' Pampling replied.

He was leading by one stroke over Bob Tway going into the second round Friday in the Ford Championship at Doral.

Scott Hoch and Thomas Levet were at 66. Seventy-six players broke par. Jack Nicklaus, at 63 and playing for only the second time on the PGA Tour in 22 months, birdied the last two holes and shot 73.

So much for that beastly Blue Monster.

``Obviously, it did have a reputation,'' Pampling said. ``I just think the players are getting a lot better. There might have been two or three guys that would have shot a good score, whereas now a lot of guys can play the game.

``Maybe it's losing its reputation.''

Pampling would love nothing better than to lose his.

Not many people know the 33-year-old Aussie, a former greenskeeper in Queensland, except for his misfortunes at Carnoustie during the 1999 British Open. He was leading after the first round with an even-par 71. He was packing his bags the next day with an 86.

Pampling is the only player in the 142-year history of the British Open to miss the cut after being in the lead.

``Obviously, it wasn't great,'' Pampling said. ``It really didn't bother me because I knew I didn't play bad, the conditions were just unbelievably tough. You gradually progress in the game and learn to deal with different things.''

Pampling made it look easy with only one of his eight birdies longer than 12 feet, and had a one-stroke lead over Bob Tway.

``It will be exciting if we finish up leading,'' Pampling said. ``It's not Sunday, so there is nothing to get excited about.''

Tway, the former PGA champion, looked like he might be tied for the lead or even better after reaching 8 under through 14 holes. He tried to hit a hard 7-iron on the 15th, but the ball got caught up in the wind and buried in a bunker.

``I was scrambling to make bogey,'' Tway said after his 65. ``We're always thinking it could be better. I think you have to be realistic.''

Scott Hoch and British Open runner-up Thomas Levet were at 66, while Carlos Franco of Paraguay finally showed some life and was in the group at 67.

Hoch was happy to be playing.

His left wrist started bothering him Wednesday and got progressively worse. He tried to hit balls, with first alternate Vance Veazey standing by, and only when he got to the final 10 swings did Hoch feel good enough to go.

He birdied four of the first eight holes and was right in the mix.

Veazey ended up going home, but not without trying to get into the field.

``He said, 'Are you sure you're feeling all right? Looks like you're coming up on it, favoring it a bit,''' Hoch said. ``He was kidding. He had a $50 gift certificate to Morton's and said he would give that to me and buy me a nice bottle of wine.''

Nicklaus doesn't need to worry about taking someone's spot in the field. He birdied the last two holes for a 1-over 73, which left him nine strokes out of the lead but better off than several players half his age.

Nicklaus, still trying to decide whether to play in his 44th Masters, hit an iron into 30 feet on the 528-yard eighth hole for a two-putt birdie, then holed a 15-foot putt on his final hole, the par-3 ninth.

``I have a nonexistent short game and it showed,'' Nicklaus said, rarely satisfied. ``I hit the ball decently, but I had some sloppy swings and that sort of killed the round.''

Still, he was one stroke better than David Duval, who continues to struggle off the tee. Duval had to take an unplayable lie on the par-5 12th, leading to a double bogey, and he went out in 40 before rallying with an eagle-birdie start on his back nine.

``What do you do?'' Duval said. ``Come back and try again tomorrow.''

Pampling is playing well enough to win, let alone stick around for the weekend.

He already contended once this year, a tie for 10th at Pebble Beach, and his game looked plenty solid in the tame morning conditions at Doral.

On three of the par 5s, he was around the green in two and easily got up-and-down for birdies. The rest of the day, he was hitting wedges inside 12 feet. The only exception came at No. 17, where he blasted an 8-iron out of the rough to 30 feet and holed the putt.

``I did everything quite nicely,'' Pampling said. ``Everything was a tap-in on the par 5s, we made a couple of nice ones and ended up being 8 (under).''