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Tolles Tops Players Championship; Leonard, Duval in Hunt

March 29, 1996

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The look on their faces answers the question before the carefully chosen words pass their lips.

Yes, Tommy Tolles, Justin Leonard and David Duval think they can win The Players Championship. It makes no difference that they have never won on the PGA Tour.

For three weeks in a row they’ve seen others do it. Now they all feel it is their turn.

``If the putter stays hot the way it has been the last two days I think I can win,″ Tolles said after shooting a 64 on Friday at the TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass for the halfway lead at 11-under-par 133.

``I think David’s ready and I feel the same about myself,″ Leonard said after starting poorly and finishing strongly to salvage a 70 for a 36-hole score of 135, two behind Tolles, along with Mark Calcavecchia.

``I feel like my time will come,″ Duval said after his 66 put him in a tied with Jay Haas, Fuzzy Zoeller and Kenny Perry at 8-under 136.

If either Tolles, 29, Leonard, 23, or Duval, 24, win this talent-rich event it will be the fourth consecutive week a non-winner has won.

``They have played without fear,″ Tolles said about Tim Herron, Paul Goydos and Scott McCarron, the first-time winners the last three weeks. ``They are not intimidated by some of these guys.″

And that has some of the veterans thinking.

``I wish they were a little more scared,″ Haas, 42, joked after shooting his second consecutive 68. ``The course hasn’t shown its teeth by any means,″ he said. ``The wind hasn’t blown and the greens are soft, but 11 under par is a good score any time.″

Tolles attacked the front nine with great iron play, making three birdie putts inside 6 feet and chipping in from 25 feet on the eighth hole. On the back nine, he made three birdie putts of 20 feet or longer.

Zoeller still wants to see how they handle the pressure of the weekend.

``He just hasn’t hit it crooked yet,″ Zoeller, 44, said about the calm, confident Tolles. ``Let him hit it crooked a couple of times and he’ll say `ooo.‴

Zoeller had a chance to tie Tolles for the lead but it was he who said ``ooo″ and gave shots back, not the mild-mannered kid from Flat Rock, N.C., a place he says is ``too cold for bass and too hot in the summer for trout.″

Zoeller, playing the back nine first, was at 11-under for the tournament through 11 holes but double bogeyed No. 3 when he hit his tee shot on the 162-yard par-3 into the back bunker and missed a 3-foot putt. He missed a 4-foot par putt on the next hole to fall to 8-under.

Haas was uncanny with his putter, making birdies of 10, 12, 15 and 25 feet on the front nine and rolling in a 45-foot eagle putt on No. 16.

``It went right in the center,″ Haas said. ``It was a pretty sight as it went down.″

But Haas also gave strokes back, missing an 8-footer on No. 15 for a bogey and chipping poorly on No. 18 after missing the green and failing to make the 15-foot par save.

Tolles, who made only 13 cuts in 27 tournaments his rookie year on the tour, has already won more than $111,000 this year and played in the final group last week in New Orleans, finishing third.

``I think I gained a lot of mental toughness from a day like that,″ Tolles said about last Sunday.

``It’s me, the golf ball and the golf course,″ he said. ``If I limit it to those three things I’ll be all right.″

And the tour will have yet another first-time winner.

DIVOTS: Brian Henninger was playing so poorly Friday his caddie asked the boy carrying the scoreboard to take Henninger’s score off. He was 7 over par at the time and the boy complied. ... Fred Couples’ battle with his chronic bad back is a constant struggle. After virtually every shot, he twists, stretches and takes slow baseball-style swings to stay loose. ... Couples hit a brilliant shot on No. 18 on Friday. After missing the fairway way right he had no shot at the green, being blocked by trees. Hitting from the rough, he took a long iron a good 10 yards out over the lake and then faded it back onto the green as an astounded gallery shouted, ``Cut! Cut!″ He two-putted for a great par. ... Ben Crenshaw stood on the treacherous 17th, staring at the island green, checked the wind, grabbed an 8-iron, switched to a 7, went back to the 8 and dumped it in the water short. ... Greg Norman had never missed two consecutive cuts since joining the PGA Tour in 1983 until now. Nick Faldo also missed the cut.

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