Durant Leads Bob Hope Classic

Friday, February 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — The only record that's safe in the desert this week is the one Mark Calcavecchia set in winning the Phoenix Open last month. And that's only because the Bob Hope Classic is a five-round tournament.

Nearly everything else is in play at the Hope, where birdies come in bunches and par is merely an abstract figure to match scores against. This is, after all, the same place where David Duval shot 59 in his final round two years ago to win the tournament.

Joe Durant came close to that Thursday, shooting an 11-under 61 that put him at 126 through two rounds, just a shot off the PGA Tour mark for 36 holes. It also put him in sight of the tour record for a 90-hole event of 35 under set in 1993 by Tom Kite.

``Nothing surprises me out here anymore,'' Durant said. ``But 35 under for five rounds is unbelievable.''

Not really. Not after a day where three players shot 62s, and Durant birdied his last six holes to take a 3-shot lead over journeyman Chris Smith.

The scores were so good that Duval shot a 68 and lost 5 shots to the leader. Billy Mayfair shot a 62 and was tied with Duval, 8 shots behind.

``Who knows what the scores will be?'' Durant said. ``All I know is I have to think really low.''

That wasn't a problem for Durant on Thursday as he offset a single bogey with 10 birdies and an eagle to take what in most tournaments would be the midway lead. Here, there are three more rounds to go and three more chances to go low.

The courses are perfectly manicured, the greens roll gentle and true and, so far, the weather has cooperated as well.

``It's almost like playing in a dome,'' Durant said.

``You got to remember, we're playing Indian Wells, not Southern Hills (U.S. Open site),'' Calcavecchia said.

Calcavecchia, whose 256 total broke a 46-year-old record at Phoenix, shot a 66 and lost 3 strokes on the lead. He made a double bogey by 4-putting the fourth hole from the fringe, then came back to run off five birdies in a row to get right back in it.

That seems to be the pattern among many players, including Durant, who finished with six straight birdies at the end to break away from a crowded leaderboard.

Brad Faxon did one better, posting back-to-back eagles at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club for a 67 that left him at 133.

``All of the factors here make you feel good on the golf course,'' said Miguel Angel Jimenez, who was 4 back after a 62.

Durant shattered his personal competitive best round by 4 shots. He shot a 61 in the pro-am in Tucson last month, but this time it counted.

``I was just on fire all day,'' Durant said. ``That's about as good as I can play.''

Durant, who ranked among the leaders in driving accuracy and greens hit last year, credited some offseason work on his short game with helping him break his previous best competitive score by 4 shots.

The short game was made easier by greens that rolled true and seldom gave up a bad bounce.

``The conditions are just immaculate,'' Durant said.

A day after 102 of the 128 players in the field broke par, it was another birdie barrage as temperatures rose to the mid-60s and the breezes were light. An even 100 players broke par Thursday, and the cumulative score was 332 under.

DIVOTS: Arnold Palmer followed his opening 81 with a 79 at La Quinta Country Club. ... Among Palmer's playing partners were Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. ... Duval's short offseason included both litigation over his change of equipment from Titleist to Nike and an engagement to his longtime girlfriend. ``It's been both an exciting and difficult time,'' Duval said. ... Jimenez said the three things he misses most when away from home are ``food, family and friends.''.