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Tolles Tops Players Championship; Leonard, Duval in Hunt

March 30, 1996

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A non-winner is in the lead once again, and some the PGA Tour veterans chasing him seem to be having a hard time believing it.

This week it’s Tommy Tolles, who shot an 8-under-par 64 Friday for a 133 and a two-stroke lead at the Players Championship. Justin Leonard _ another non-winner on tour _ was tied second.

``This is a pretty special golf tournament, so maybe by the end of the week you might see the veteran-type players,″ said Mark Calcavecchia, who was tied with Leonard at 135.

``He just hasn’t hit it crooked yet. Let him hit it crooked a couple of times and he’ll say `ooo,‴ said Fuzzy Zoeller, a former Masters and U.S. Open champion who faltered on the back nine to fall three strokes behind Tolles.

``The course hasn’t shown its teeth by any means,″ said Jay Haas, tied with Zoeller and non-winner David Duval at 136 after his second straight 68. ``The wind hasn’t blown and the greens are soft, but 11-under-par is a good score any time.″

Tolles’ 64 was the best score of the two rounds played over the tame TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass.

Along with overnight rains, a shift in wind cooled temperatures in the afternoon and kept the greens from getting crusty. That made the course play soft for everyone.

But not everyone produced the same sensational play as Tolles, who finished third last week at New Orleans behind Scott McCarron.

Greg Norman missed the cut for the second straight tournament, the first time that has happened since he began playing a full PGA Tour schedule in 1984. Nick Faldo also missed the cut.

Tolles made birdies every way possible _ lengthy putts, short ones set up by solid iron play and a chip-in at the difficult par-3 eighth hole. He answered his only bogey at No. 14 with three straight birdies.

This kind of play is bound to ruin the quiet life he leads in Flat Rock, N.C., a small town with no police force and only a dozen or so people who even know he’s a professional golfer.

``The rest of them have no idea, which is the way I like it,″ Tolles said.

Leonard, who shared the first-round lead with Kenny Perry after a 65, bogeyed two of the first five holes to fall to 5-under. But he recovered with a soft touch on the chips and seven putts on the last six holes to get to 9-under.

``I hit some good shots when I needed to and made some pretty big putts,″ Leonard said.

Duval, who had three runner-up finishes during a fantastic rookie season a year ago, used a 5-iron to chip in a 20-footer for eagle on No. 16 and made a 50-foot putt for birdie on No. 8 in shooting a 66.

All this talk about first-time winners is starting to wear on him.

``Anybody who is surprised doesn’t follow professional golf a whole lot,″ Duval said. ``With such tours as Nike and Hooters tours, and then the qualifying tournament itself, the mental toughness you need to gain to win tournaments is given to you through routes to the PGA Tour.

``I feel like my time will come.″

Some of the veterans in the hunt don’t have a lot of experience at winning lately. Zoeller hasn’t won since 1986. Haas and Chip Beck, who shot a 69 to get to 7-under, haven’t won since 1992.

Zoeller, who had acupuncture treatment for a calcium deposit on his right knuckle, got to 11-under and was leading by two strokes at the time. Then his 6-iron caught the back bunker at the par-3 third hole, landing the width of a sand wedge’s blade from the back lip.

He wound up with double bogey when he missed a 4-foot putt, missed another 4-footer to take bogey on the next hole and never got them back.

Calcavecchia recovered from his mistake _ dumping it in the water on the par-5 11th hole _ with birdies on four of the next five holes. That kind of play may be what’s needed for the veterans to have a chance this weekend.

``I am not expecting some of these younger guys that are up there doing well to go backwards,″ he said.

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 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. ... Mike Heinen wasn’t so lucky. Needing par on the last hole to make the cut, he wound up in the same spot and tried the same shot. It hit a tree and ricocheted right, resting at the base of another tree. After pitching out to the fairway, his sand wedge for par hit a 1 foot from the hole before spinning away.

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