An easy day, and a course record, for Sluman

Friday, October 29th 2004, 7:25 am
By: News On 6

PALM HARBOR, Florida (AP) _ A few hours after Jeff Sluman finished his record-setting round, the scoreboard behind him on the putting green made it clear that no one was going to catch his 9-under 62 in the Chrysler Championship.

Before long, players walked by with their congratulations.

``Tell me you stopped after 16,'' Peter Jacobsen said.

Kevin Na took the belly putter from Sluman and said, ``Why are you practicing?''

It's been a while since Sluman was the center of attention. It felt even longer since he has seen so many shots go where he was aiming, and so many putts disappear into the hole.

Sluman missed only one green Thursday, made nine birdies and never came close to a bogey in building a two-shot lead on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook that played nearly a half-shot over par. The previous course record was a 63 by K.J. Choi in the opening round two years ago.

Jonathan Kaye and Kent Jones _ one guy trying to get into the Tour Championship, the other trying to keep his PGA Tour card _ were at 64. Kaye got there in style with a hole-in-one at No. 17, and finishing with a birdie.

Vijay Singh, who needs only a top 15 at Innisbrook to assure himself a $10 million season, had a 65.

The only think Sluman lacked was an explanation.

``It was one of those days that, because you're playing so well, it just seems easy,'' Sluman said. ``And you kind of wonder to yourself why in the world you can't do that more often.''

Sluman isn't starving, but he is only No. 79 on the money list and one of the few guys who isn't on some kind of bubble in the final full-field tournament of the year.

Sunday will decide who gets into the Tour Championship (top 30 on the money list), the Masters (top 40) and who keeps their jobs next year (top 125).

That's why it was such a good start _ and a great finish _ for Kaye, who is 32nd on the money list $32,000 behind the guy in 30th place. And it was even more important to Jones, who is 124th on the money list and showed up in Tampa some $1,200 over Olin Browne at No. 125.

``It was a good start,'' said Jones, who birdied his first two holes. ``It probably helped settle me down.''

Kirk Triplett had the best start of all with six birdies on his first eight holes, cooling from there to join Jones and Kay at 64. Justin Rose of England had a 65 and was tied with Singh.

Sluman has to win to play next week at East Lake or in April at Augusta National. But he remembers what it's like to feel the pressure of trying to reach a goal.

A year ago, Sluman bogeyed the final two holes and would have finished 41st on the money list by $900 if either of two players made birdie on the final hole. They made bogey, and Sluman got his ticket to the Masters.

That burden lifted, he cruised around the Copperhead course at Innisbrook in a good frame of mind, hitting fairways and greens and holing more putts than he has all year.

``It's probably a little easier to go out and kind of freewheel it a little bit more, and not be overly concerned if you're on the bubble of any of those areas,'' Sluman said.

Singh isn't on a bubble, he's just in his own world.

The 41-year-old Fijian has won five of his last seven starts, and seeing his name on the leaderboard is expected. Singh didn't do anything spectacular, but he rarely made a mistake.

``If you hit decent shots and make some putts, you're going to play well. And that's what I'm doing right now,'' said Singh, making it sound as simple as ever.

Kaye turned a good round into a great round with three swings. The first one was a 3-iron that found the cup from 200 meters (222 yards) on the 17th hole for an ace. Then, he belted his drive and hit a wedge to 3 feet for an easy birdie.

``Great finish, man,'' Kaye said. ``Doesn't get any better than that for me.''

Jones has been watching his position fluctuate at the bottom of the money list the last few weeks, although he only needed to judge his position on the money list by the number of interviews he has been giving.

``I guess it's a little abnormal that I'm talking to the media as much as I have the last couple of weeks,'' he said.

Jones was more nervous than usual, but settled down quickly with birdies on his first two holes. He made three straight birdies from the 20-foot range and wound up matching his best score of the year.

Browne had a 72, while Craig Barlow (No. 126) had a 74 and will struggle to make the cut.

There were bubble boys just about everywhere else on the leaderboard. The group at 67 included Jay Haas (No. 29 on the money list) and Jose Maria Olazabal, who is 146th and has no plans to go to Q-school. Charles Howell (No. 33) was in the large group at 68.