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Zoeller greeted with open arms at Colonial

May 21, 1997

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ If Fuzzy Zoeller had any doubts about how he would be received at the Colonial, his first tournament since offending Tiger Woods, they were gone by the time he drove up to the clubhouse Wednesday.

A few houses from the main driveway, a banner draped between two massive pillars read, ``We Love Fuzzy!″

That sentiment continued throughout the afternoon as a gallery of more than 200 followed the tournament’s 1981 champion, cheering his every move and laughing heartily at all his jokes.

Zoeller has been off the PGA Tour since the Masters, where he called Woods ``that little boy″ and urged him not to request fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner next year at Augusta National.

It was exactly a month ago Wednesday that Zoeller first apologized for those statements, but the fallout has continued. Kmart stopped sponsoring him and he says he’s received venomous letters calling him racist.

Zoeller got a chance to tell Woods he was sorry in a face-to-face meeting Tuesday. Afterward, both said all is well, although there were signs that isn’t totally the case.

The two didn’t cross paths Wednesday.

Zoeller was in the second-to-last group teeing off in the pro-am preceeding the MasterCard Colonial. He didn’t even arrive until a half-hour before his 1:29 p.m. tee time, long after Woods finished.

The gallery for Woods was only slightly bigger than Zoeller’s, although his 7:28 a.m. starting time and cold, cloudy weather probably kept many more people away.

The Colonial, where Zoeller is playing for the 19th time, proved to be the perfect place for his return to the tour.

There was tremendous applause along with whoops and cheers when he was introduced. One fan hollered a negative comment about Kmart which Zoeller responded to with a big smile and laugh.

Zoeller didn’t waste time hamming it up. After his first tee shot, he spread his arms widely then used his hand to shield his eyes as if watching his drive soar. The fans ate it up.

Minutes later, Zoeller joined the rest of his playing partners and much of the gallery in singing ``Happy Birthday″ to teammate Russ Chappell, who turned 50 Wednesday.

The red marker Zoeller kept tucked in his back pocket nearly ran out of ink as he signed dozens of hats and programs as well as a woman’s shirt sleeve and a $1 bill. After one hole, he took a ball out of his pants pocket, signed it and offered it to a young boy.

Two Fort Worth police officers walked with Zoeller’s group _ which isn’t usually done in the pro-am _ but they were hardly needed. Their biggest duty was handing autographed items to fans as Zoeller walked between shots.

The crowd went the wildest at the par-3 13th, where about 400 people were packed around a grandstand behind the green. They cheered louder than the gang at first tee and chanted ``Fuz-zee, Fuz-zee″ as he approached. One man screamed ``Tar-get, Tar-get″ in yet another jab at Kmart’s breakup with Zoeller.

``We still love you man,″ another voice cried.

As for his game, there were little signs of his six-week layoff. He parred most holes with a few birdies _ including a near ace at 16 _ and a few bogeys.

Zoeller, who smoked constantly and used a cellular phone occasionally, also wasn’t afraid to cut up a little. He teased his partners after bad shots and joked with his caddy.