Scott, Durant Lead at Tour Championship

Saturday, November 4th 2006, 6:01 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Joe Durant stood over an 8-foot par putt on the par-3 closing hole at East Lake, needing to make it for his second straight round under par and to stay atop the leaderboard with Adam Scott in the Tour Championship.

A short time after he made that putt, someone asked him what turned around his year.

Durant didn't have to think too hard for an answer.

``Putting,'' he replied. ``The 4- to 10-foot range really has been my nemesis, and I've made a lot of that distance. If you can make that length putt, it just takes so much pressure off the rest of your game. You don't feel like you've got to hit at every stick. And if you miss a green, you feel you can chip it to that range and make a bunch of them.''

That carried him to a 2-under 68 on Friday, and it explains his recent surge. He has not finished out of the top 10 in his last four tournaments, including a victory at Disney and a tie for fourth last week at Innisbrook to secure his spot among the top 30 on the money list that qualify for the Tour Championship.

It could go a long way at East Lake, too.

Scott kept his tee shots in play to set up 16 birdie chances, and he made enough of them for a 67 to match Durant at 4-under 136.

Trevor Immelman shot the best score of the week (66) and was in the group at 1-under 139 that included Brett Quigley, who remains the only player to get through 18 holes at East Lake without a bogey.

The final tournament of the year is quite a test, and it could come down to patience and putting.

``I just tried to stay very patient,'' Durant said, and that was a test in itself after he missed a 3-foot putt on his second hole.

Scott is trying to stay patient in other ways.

The 26-year-old Australian has been brilliant at times, becoming the youngest winner (23) of The Players Championship in 2004, beating a solid field at the Deutsche Bank Championship a year earlier. But he has disappeared at times during the season, especially in the majors.

His goal was to be more consistent, and he has achieved that this year.

All he needs now is a trophy, the only one coming in Singapore. But that doesn't get him to Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship to start the 2007 season.

``I've probably played the best I ever have over the period of a year, but have nothing much to show for it other than a win in Singapore,'' Scott said. ``I was looking for a little bit more than that, really. This weekend is a good chance for me to get something out of my good play over the year.''

That's not to say Scott hasn't had his chances.

He made late surges at Riviera and Quail Hollow and was in the final group at the Byron Nelson Championship, closing with a 71. He has had six finishes in the top 3, most recently a runner-up to Tiger Woods by eight shots at the American Express Championship outside London, which turned out to be Woods' last event of the PGA Tour season.

Scott saw something that day, nothing he didn't already know, but it struck a chord.

``You look at how Tiger closes out the deal when he's in contention, and that's something that I need to figure out how I can do that,'' Scott said. ``I had two or three really good chances this year to do that, and didn't get it done. That was disappointing, but that's something a young player needs to learn.''

Durant learned his lessons from videotape of a lesser-known player _ himself.

Putting is what turned around his fortunes, and it required him to go back to a style he used in high school and college. Durant switched to a more open stance to accommodate being right-eye dominant, allowing him a better look at the hole.

``When I try to be perfectly square with my shoulders, feet, hips ... I virtually had no idea where I was trying to putt the ball other that where my putter was setting,'' he said. ``I went back to my open stance, and I could see the line better.''

He changed for the same reason everyone else does _ when the putts don't fall, he looks for something better.

Scott and Durant had a three-shot lead going into the weekend, but the Tour Championship remains wide open to half the 27-man field, the smallest in history with Woods, Phil Mickelson and the ailing Stephen Ames missing.

Immelman and Quigley were at 1-under 139 with Retief Goosen (71) and Stuart Appleby, making them the only six players under par through two rounds.

Luke Donald made the only eagle this week at the par-5 15th, then followed that by becoming the first player to make birdie on the 16th hole. That carried him to a 67 and put him at even-par 140, along with Jim Furyk (71) and Zach Johnson (69).

Vijay Singh was chasing the leaders until he bogeyed the last two holes for a 72, leaving him at 141 but still only five shots behind.

On the bubble of falling out of contention was Ernie Els, who was 2 under for his round until dumping a flop shot into the bunker on the par-5 ninth and taking bogey, then losing three more shots on the back nine for a 72 to finish seven shots behind.

``The course is not letting you get on enough of a roll to make birdies,'' Appleby said. ``Sometimes it's just barely letting you hang on to make pars. As you see by the scores, we're trying our best. It's tough out there.''