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Published: Saturday, 8/7/2004

Burton looks on bright side

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

With her left ankle taped heavily, protecting the latest of her physical woes, Burton rips through a laundry list of procedures almost as if she's ready to close a game of Gin Rummy.

"Right shoulder three times, right knee three times, jaw three times, and the left ankle twice now," says Burton, who adds optimistically, "We'll leave it at that and not have any more."

All of this and she is still just 32 years old.

When she was 19 back in 1991, the California native had eight top-10 finishes and made 21 of 24 cuts en route to winning the LPGA's rookie of the year award.

In 1992 she added 13 more top-10s, including her first tour victory while collecting $419,571.

The following year she enjoyed her best season, making 25 of 26 cuts, taking 15 top-10s, and winning three tournaments, including her first major, the duMaurier Classic. She also won the Farr Classic title at Highland Meadows on the way to $517,741.

At that point, at age 21, it appeared Burton was on her way to a career that would rate as one of the LPGA's best. She was - at 21 years, seven months and 21 days - the youngest player in tour history to surpass $1 million in career earnings.

Soon afterward, the injury bug not only crept up but darn near devoured her.

A rib injury slowed her in 1995 and, by '97, she had already had her third jaw surgery. After winning a career-high $652,084 in 1998, a shoulder surgery cost her the entire 1999 season.

Through it all, Burton kept having surgeries, rehabbing, and returning to the tour.

She has taken the lemons and tried to make lemonade.

"I just kind of work with the cards that have been dealt to me," Burton said. "I think that's what has stopped me is the injuries. I've had 11 surgeries now. That's definitely why I don't think I've succeeded as well as a lot of people thought I might have."

Does she ever ask, "Why me?"

"You can't look at it that way," Burton said. "In the back of my mind I just have to feel fortunate to still be able to play golf with as many injuries as I've had. I try to treat it like that. This is a gift for us to come out here and make a living at what we love to do, so I'm fortunate."

Since being sidelined in '99, she has played in 99 LPGA tournaments, including this week's Farr Classic, without a victory. She had just one top-10 in 2002, two last year, and two so far this year through 15 stops.

Injuries aside, Burton has made enough prize money - never less than $152,704 in 13 full seasons (including $173,990 this year) - by bandaging her game together long enough and well enough between injuries to survive.

This week she looks to end her drought and, at the midway point of the Farr Classic, is within striking range of the top. Entering today's third round in this 72-hole event, Burton's 2-under 69 yesterday left her at 6-under and in third place, one stroke behind co-leaders Angela Jerman and Meg Mallon.

After carding a 4-under-par 67 in Thursday's opening round, Burton finished with a bang yesterday to salvage a decent second round after all but squandering a solid start.

She birdied hole Nos. 2 and 4 to go to 6-under for the tournament before bogeying 12, 14 and 15 to potentially spoil her round.

But the comeback kid regrouped to birdie No. 16 and then highlighted her day by holing a 20-foot chip out of the left-front bunker for an eagle 3 on the 513-yard, par-5 17th hole.

Burton said she felt fortunate to walk off with a 69 after a round in which her ball-striking touch seemed to abandon her.

"I didn't hit it too well on the back nine, so I'm not real happy with that," she said. "But finishing like that makes it a lot easier."

Burton remains confident that there is still time and opportunity left for her to make a more significant mark as a player.

"I'm only 32," she said. "I might look like a beat-up veteran out here, but I've still got some years left in me.

"I've had an offseason surgery every year since 1998, so I'm planning on not having one this year. Then maybe I can get myself in shape to be a little more rehabilitated when I come out."

Does she lament what might have been sans the injures?

"You can always guess," Burton said.

"I really don't know what would have happened. I would like to think that I would have had a few more wins under my belt by now, but who knows.

"You just play with what you've got and go from there and just feel fortunate that you're able to play golf for a living."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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