Pooley opens 3-shot lead in MasterCard
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
KA'uPULEHU, Hawai'i — A week ago, the Sony Open in Hawai'i turned into a two-man golf shootout going into the final round. Yesterday, Don Pooley did his best to transform today's final round of the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai into a one-man show.
Pooley opened with a career-low 63 Friday and followed up with a 64 yesterday in MasterCard's second round at Hualalai Golf Club. He takes a three-shot advantage over Loren Roberts (67) into this morning's final round, with D.A. Weibring (65) and Jay Haas (64) four shots back.
Almost everybody got the best of Hualalai on a flawless Friday, leaving 22 players within five shots of first. Pooley separated himself with a vengeance yesterday. Only five players are within five this morning.
All have to go low to catch Pooley, but there is recent precedence. Defending champion Dana Quigley erased a four-shot deficit last year.
"I'd like to extend it (his lead) actually," Pooley said. "I'm not going to try and do anything different. You never know what the conditions will be, but I'm going to try and play the same way and birdie half the holes like I've been doing and that should be fine. Who knows? Having two rounds like this ... 63 and 64 back-to-back is pretty special."
Pooley flirted with history yesterday. His two-day total of 17-under 127 is a shot better than Tom Watson's then-record 36-hole total last year at Hualalai. It equals the best 36-hole score in Champions Tour history, in relation to par.
Pooley is taking Hualalai apart, streak by streak. He has 17 birdies and 19 pars and has been mesmerizing on Hualalai's pure greens. In two days Pooley, sixth in putting on the tour last year, has made eight putts outside 10 feet.
He has had five straight birdies each day here. Yesterday's early blitz, which included birdie putts of 25 and 40 feet, put a four-shot gap between Pooley and the other 34 players by the seventh hole. A modest, by his standards, three-birdie surge put him at 17-under after the 13th hole.
Pooley parred in to protect his advantage. Maybe the most frightening thought for those chasing him today is that he cut them a break by parring both back-nine par-5s.
This is uncharted territory for a 54-year-old who has never finished better than 17th in this limited field event, and has never won the first tournament of the season in his 30-year career, though it has always been a dream.
"I've always thought it would take the pressure off," insisted Pooley, the 2002 U.S. Senior Open champion. "You're playing with the house's money the rest of the year is what it feels like. I'd love to get the win out of the way and then go, see what you can do, get multiples from there, I don't know. I've never won the first one so I don't know if that's how it works but it always looks like that is how it should work."
The pressure today could be applied by Roberts, who will play with Pooley and hardly feels as if he is out of it. But for two bad swings yesterday — a double bogey after his tee shot splashed into the lake on the fifth and a snap hook into the bunker leading to bogey at the ninth — he would have shared the lead.
"I saw him right ahead of us and he didn't birdie 14 so I thought if I can birdie three holes coming in I could be close," said Roberts, who made nearly $1 million in six starts after turning 50 last year. "I didn't quite get there ... but a three-shot lead around this golf course is not safe. Unless it really blows hard you'll have to make a lot of birdies.
"I'm going to try and play the way I did the first day (63). If you get it going and the wind doesn't blow too hard, you think 62 or 63 around here."
The 63 has been done four times this week. Pooley promises to simply play on.
"If I can keep a cushion I won't have to worry about it," he said. "If it gets close ... I'm not going to try and think too much about that. You've got to play your own game out there, beat the golf course and yourself. I have no control over Loren. He can shoot a 59 and I could shoot a 64 and he'd win. You've got to focus on what I have control over, and that is very little sometimes."
Pooley's brilliance was preceded by another bunch of scores in the 60s yesterday as the wind came up a bit, but apparently not enough to scare anyone over 50. The average score (68.743) was a shot higher than Friday. No round was more compelling than Gil Morgan's 63, which tied Fuzzy Zoeller as the lowest second-round score in history at Hualalai.
Morgan shot 41 on his first nine of the year Friday. He is 15-under since, with just 37 putts on his last 27 holes. He accomplished that basically with the mind-set of "trying to keep away from tremendous embarrassment."
The 1998 MasterCard champion shot 30 on the back nine both days. He was in the second group out yesterday, but will be in the fifth-to-last today (12:44 p.m.) after shooting from 32nd to ninth.
Morgan set the tournament record when he won in 1998 with a 21-under 195.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.