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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Eubank, Wie lead Hawai'i State Open

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

MAKENA, Maui — A sponsor and an eighth grader are in the driver's seat after yesterday's second round of the 2002 Hawai'i State Open at Makena Resort's South Course. The fact that Tom Eubank might win some of his own money and Michelle Wie is too young to drive, only adds intrigue to an event that opened with its fair share.

This year's State Open compensates for what it lacks in quantity (only 114 entrants) with quality. Kaua'i's David Ishii returned from Japan's pro tour to play for the first time since 1985, when he won his third title. Former Rainbow Wahine Cindy Rarick, who represents Waikoloa, is beginning her LPGA offseason. She hasn't played in this event since losing a playoff to Jeannette Kerr in 1980. Regan Lee and three-time champion Christel Tomori are home after playing on mini-tours.

The field is filled with fascinating golfers, and all are chasing Eubank, who takes a four-shot advantage into the final round, and Wie, up by eight.

Larry Stubblefield and Mike Iyoki share first among the seniors. Both are even par after shooting 75 yesterday. They hold a one-stroke lead over Dan Nishimoto (72).

At the other end of the age spectrum is Wie, who played two LPGA tournaments this year, then became a teenager last month. Nearly 6 feet now, she is launching the ball farther and putting it better.

"Her length is obviously very impressive," said Rarick, whose 72 put her second, a shot ahead of Tomori (70) yesterday. "And her wedge game is good, which is good because she hits a lot of wedges into the greens. But what's really impressive is her putting. She was 'lights out' today. When she's struggling for par and needs a save, she rolls it right into the center."

Wie shot 71 yesterday, despite hooking a shot out of bounds that led to a double bogey. Even with one three-putt, she needed but 27 putts. Friday she bogeyed her first hole and still shot 5-under-par-67 — the day's low score.

The rest of Wie's year looks like this: Try to protect a large lead today to win her first State Open, then play in the Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association Tournament of Champions next month and Sony Open in Hawai'i qualifying in January.

Eubank owns Tour Golf, which makes scorecards and yardage books. He lives in Florida but has a dozen clients in Hawai'i and is a supporting sponsor of this event. He had played Makena once before this week, then opened with a 3-under 69 on Friday and followed with a 67 yesterday.

"This tournament, no matter how I finish tomorrow, has been far more successful for us being a sponsor," Eubank said. "I've gotten a lot of good feedback and it's been a lot of fun. The only thing ... I don't know if they'll be upset if I'm a sponsor and I actually come in the top few."

Eubank is four ahead of Lee (69) and first-round leader Chad Fribley (72), and seven up on Ishii (73), who is here to get his swing back to a point where he "can hit the ball better and know where it's going."

Lee, who had six birdies yesterday, has been Hawai'i's hottest golfer this year and is coming off a lucrative season on the Gateway Tour.

Fribley, 26, lives near Seattle and is trying to work his way onto a tour after spending two years as an assistant pro at Kapalua Bay.

Kevin Hayashi needs to make up an eight-shot deficit to win his fourth consecutive State Open after shooting 71 — with five birdies — yesterday.

All but Eubank are having a tough time with Makena's challenging greens, made even more difficult by pin placements that require a precise approach shot.

Eubank, 43, is hitting it so well it doesn't seem to matter. This is his first tournament in Hawai'i since the 1990 Hawaiian Open. He played on the PGA Tour that year, then the Buy.com Tour. He took the past 10 years off from competitive golf to try and salvage his marriage, and start his business. Now he's back with a seven-year itch for the senior tour.

He spent the summer on the Golden Bear mini-tour near his home and the last two days pulling away from the field.

"I never once tried to overpower the ball," Eubank said. "That helps. I've just been aiming for the middle of the greens and hitting the ball well so even my bad shots have an easy recovery. Today, I really struggled reading the putts on the front. On the back, I started making everything."