Kresge Takes 2-Shot Lead At Innisbrook

Friday, March 9th 2007, 7:36 am
By: News On 6

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) _ Cliff Kresge is used to being in strange places, although this was one to celebrate. He made two eagles Thursday in the first round of the PODS Championship, including a 5-iron from 184 yards on the sixth hole, and he flirted with the course record until a few errant tee shots down the stretch made him settle for a 6-under 65 and a two-shot lead over Arron Oberholser, Daniel Chopra and rookies Anthony Kim and Doug LaBelle.

It was the first time Kresge has ever led after any round in 114 starts on the PGA Tour.

``I'd much rather be 8 under than 6 under,'' he said. ``But 6 under is a heck of a score out here.''

The last time he drew so much attention was a moment he would rather forget.

Kresge is best known for his follies at Q-school in 2000. He faced an important putt in the final round and was backing up to get a better look at the line. He went back ... and back ... and back ... until he tumbled over the edge of a stream and went into the water.

It was embarrassing, but not the end of the world.

``If that did anything to me, it hardened me a lot,'' Kresge said. ``I just was determined to not let the fact that I fell in the water keep me from getting my card. And for once in my life, I didn't really get in my way.''

Still, he concedes that until he wins a tournament, that moment will stay with him.

``It's something different that happened that nobody has ever really done,'' he said. ``It's unique. I guess until I do win one, they'll keep asking me about it.''

He had other history on his mind on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook.

Kresge hit the ball so pure that he was 8 under through 11 holes, and his longest putt was a 10-footer for eagle on the par-5 11th. He got up-and-down from short of the green on the par-5 first. He hit a wedge to a foot on the third, and after laying up on the par-5 fifth, hit another wedge to about 18 inches.

``I drove it down the middle of the fairway and hit every iron right at the flag,'' he said.

His caddie thought both of those wedges might go into the hole, so when Kresge's 5-iron on No. 6 headed for the flag, his caddie called out, ``Go in this time.''

And it did.

Then came another approach on the 10th to a foot, and the eagle at No. 11.

``When I made that putt, I knew I had gone to 8 (under), but the fact of making three more birdies or whatever didn't enter my mind that much,'' he said. ``I did have a couple of good looks and I just didn't make them.''

And it took a while for people to notice.

Kresge said he didn't see any cameras _ and hardly any gallery _ with him until about the 14th hole, and it wasn't long after that when he started missing fairways and paying the price.

``Charlie Wi said, 'What's going on out here? You're lapping the field and nobody is out there,''' Kresge said. ``They only show up when I play bad. I don't know what the deal is.''

Only 27 players managed to break par. Vijay Singh, the only player from the top 10 in the world rankings at Innisbrook, was at 70, along with Nissan Open champion Charles Howell III and Sergio Garcia.

Oberholser's year has been stalled by back problems.

He played only one round this year, at Kapalua for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, when he felt twinges that turned out to be bulging disks. It was the third time in four years he has been hampered by a back injury, but he thinks he found a solution.

Oberholser began a training regimen he described as ``Eastern Bloc stuff'' that straps him to an Accelerated Recovery Performance machine and requires him to hold various postures. His fiancee, LPGA Tour player Angie Rizzo, talked him into it.

``You don't go to these guys when you're feeling good,'' he said. ``You go to these guys because this is the last stop. It's extremely intense. You hear people crying in the gym.''

He wasn't crying at Innisbrook, rather pleasantly surprised that he felt good and scored well.

Most players were curious about the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, one of the best on tour in Florida. This tournament had been held in the fall since it began in 2000, a time when the fairways are crispy and quick, and the Bermuda grass is tricky.

With rye grass keeping the course green and lush, it didn't allow anyone to run away, even though Kresge tried. He had a five-shot lead after his eagle on No. 11 until running into problems off the tee.

``It played a lot longer than it has ever played,'' Jesper Parnevik said after a 68. ``We hit shots into the green that you would never dream about hitting in the fall.''

The greens added to the adventure, firm and fast, with a tinge of brown from being mowed so tight.

``The greens react like they're dead,'' said Tim Herron, who chipped in for birdie on his last hole for a 73. ``When you get real close to the greens, they're actually brown. It was tough.''

Kresge had a simple solution for that, not leaving himself much distance between the ball and the cup.