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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Reason for optimism

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Carri Wood records her score on No. 18. She has never won a pro tournament. Carri Wood records her score on No. 18. She has never won a pro tournament.
BLACK / BLADE Enlarge

Optimists and pessimists are usually split evenly among just about any group of people, and LPGA Tour “semi-regular” Carri Wood is one of those glass-half-full types.

Wood would have to be one the way she has toiled on the outer fringes of survival as a professional golfer.

In her 10th year as a pro, including seven on the LPGA Tour, Wood not only has never won a tournament, she has never had a top-10 finish. Her career-best effort came in July of 2001 when she tied for 18th at the Sybase Big Apple Classic in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Thus, her 4-under 67 yesterday in the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic at Highland Meadows was a legitimate reason for Wood to feel upbeat.

That round - which included birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 8, 13 and 14 to go with a lone bogey on 16 - pulled her to 7 under for the tournament entering the final round, and put her in good position for a career-best finish.

The 67 was also just one stroke above her LPGA career-low score of 66 shot last year in the Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Aurora, Ill.

“I've had my ups and downs,” said Wood, who was out of the LPGA completely for three years (1995-97) after playing 14 events in her rookie season of 1994. “I haven't played great this year, but it only takes one good week.”

Wood, whose career earnings over 107 LPGA events since her first in 1991 total just $163,399, stood at 138th on this year's money list at $19,903 entering the Farr Classic.

A top-10 finish would more than double that total, and that's a good thing for Wood, whose nonexempt player status prevents her from playing in some tournaments. She will play at the next three LPGA stops but, after that, she is guaranteed nothing.

“It's tough that way early in the season,” Wood said of getting into a tournament field, “but right now, when a lot of the girls are back in Europe playing, I get to get into a number of them. At the end, I might not be in the last few because everyone's fighting for their tour cards. I really have to play well these next three weeks.”

Wood works every off-season, most recently in the pro shop at a country club back home. That employment gives her an opportunity to play and practice during the LPGA's lengthy down time, and to make ends meet. She earned $31,663, $54,075 and $41,953 the last three years in tournaments.

“We do a lot of pro-ams and I've worked throughout the winter,” Wood said of her extra income. “Otherwise, you just keep plugging away. There's been times when I've wondered, `Boy, should I even be out here?' And then you have weeks like this that you think, `Well, I am halfway decent and I can compete out here.' You've just got to believe in yourself.”

With golf earnings money having never been in abundance for Wood, she has learned how to survive.

“You try to stay in homes with families some weeks, and you drive to tournaments sometimes rather than flying,” she said. “You learn how to cut costs. I've been out here doing this for 10 years, so I know how to budget, and I've had a couple decent sponsors that have helped.”

Wood, 32, is a Massachusetts native who resides in Cape Cod. She played collegiately at Mississippi State University, where she was a three-time All-American and All-Southeastern Conference player, and won the 1992 SEC individual title. In 1991 she was runner-up in the U.S. Public Links Championship, and in 1988 and '89 she was the Massachusetts state high school champion.

In her three years away from the LPGA, Wood played on the Futures Tour and on the Asian Tour. She had moderate success - but no wins.

“I think the only thing that defeats me is myself,” she said. “Some of my playing partners have told me that I'm a good player and that I just have to believe it and go out and trust it.

“I've never completely said, `I can't do this anymore.' I seem to just keep fighting and clawing and hanging in there. I love the game and I love what I'm doing. As long as I can make my bills and don't owe money to anyone, I'll stay with it. I'm my own boss. Nobody's telling me what to do or where to go. I like that.”



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