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Published: 4/8/2006

Campbell leads by 3 after a 67, but all of the Big Five are lurking

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. - A few years back, his fellow tour players responded to a poll in a national sports magazine and predicted Chad Campbell would be the next big name, the next star in pro golf's constellation.

He almost immediately made them look prophetic by winning the Tour Championship late in the 2003 season and the Bay Hill Invitational in '04.

By early evening tomorrow, he could turn them into absolute geniuses.

Campbell had one of only three sub-70 rounds yesterday at Augusta National and parlayed that 5-under-par 67 into a three-shot lead at the midway point of the 70th Masters.

The 31-year-old Texan is at 6-under 138, but far from out of the woods, so to speak.

When Tiger Woods tapped in for par at No. 18 for a card of 71 and a 1-under total, it meant that all of golf's so-called Big Five - Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are the others - were under par and within five shots of the lead.

So are former Masters champions Fred Couples and Ben Crenshaw, 46 and 54 years old, respectively. Couples, one of the last players to finish, recovered from back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16 with a birdie at the 17th hole - another birdie putt lipped out after a beautiful approach shot to No. 18 - to finish with a 70. He's tied for second with Singh (74) and Rocco Mediate (73) at 3-under 141.

Mickelson and Els, who shot 72 and 71, respectively, were among five players at 2-under 142. Crenshaw (72) and Goosen (73) were among those who joined Woods at 1-under.

They're all chasing Campbell who, said Els, "will definitely be very tough to beat this weekend. It seems like he's there every week. He's a golfing machine."

That was especially the case earlier this year when Campbell finished second and first in back-to-back tournaments, winning the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

Yesterday, he birdied three straight holes, starting with the par-3 12th.

"There's nothing to celebrate yet, but it's special to be leading after two rounds," Campbell said. "Obviously, my goal is to be leading after four rounds. But it's a good start and hopefully I'll have a good weekend. I feel like I'm driving the ball well, which takes a lot of pressure off everything else."

Most of the big names on the board finished after Campbell and found polite ways to point out that the leader had made the turn before the wind picked up.

Nonetheless, Campbell had four birdies on his back nine and came home in 33.

"It was really tough, really swirly," Woods said. "A good shot could end up in a bad spot. You just had to accept the consequences and move on."

The defending champion didn't have to accept the same consequences Singh did early in his round. After making two early birdies to get to 7-under - the lowest total at any point so far - Singh had back-to-back double bogeys at Nos. 4 and 5. He had another later in the round at No. 13.

"When [the wind] is coming from all directions, it's pretty hard to figure out," Singh said. "I hit a 6-iron right at the flag at No. 4 and the wind gusted and the ball landed on the downslope and went into the bushes. The next hole I hit a 7-iron right over the flag, it bounced in the trap and I left it there with the next shot.

"But I was still 3-under and I'd only played five holes. I was able to birdie again right away at No. 6 and that settled me down a lot."

Couples, who didn't finish until after 7 p.m., said the wind was in full bore when he stepped to the first tee. He got around the front nine with some good par-saving putts and then caught fire to get to 4-under through 14 holes.

"I hit my drive on the [530-yard, par-5] 15th hole a mile down the fairway and I've got a 5-iron left," he said. "I smoked it right at the flag and it came up short in the water. I just mis-clubbed with the wind and it was a huge letdown."

So was the lip-out from about five feet on the final green while trying for a second straight birdie.

Mediate was making them from that distance all day, although not necessarily for birdies.

"Wasn't that cool?" he said after draining six putts of between 5 and 15 feet in length. "You're never going to go around this course making tap-ins all day, so you have to have those."

Mediate, 43, said he wasn't surprised by Campbell's round because "he's one of, if not the best, hitters of the ball we have."

Couples called Campbell "a great player," but then glanced at the leaderboard, saw the Big Five and some other seasoned veterans, and sounded a word of caution.

"You know," he said, "it's hard to play the lead here."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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