Saturday, September 6, 2003

'Lucky' Thorpe sitting pretty in Kroger

His first-round 67 trails leader Morgan by 2 strokes, two others by 1

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gil Morgan urges a birdie putt into the hole on the 18th green.
(Gary Landers photo)
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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - Jim Thorpe hit "the greatest shot of my life" on the par-4 fourth hole - a downhill, bunker shot to 1 foot for par - and he also had a 50-foot "slam-dunk" putt for eagle on the par-5 No. 8.

He shot a 67, two back of Gil Morgan (65) in the first round Friday of the Champions Tour Kroger Classic at the TPC at River's Bend.

"Is this the chair Larry Nelson sat in?" asked Thorpe, who followed Nelson (66) into the interview room. Told that it was, Thorpe said, "Good, this is the chair I want."

Lucky putts, lucky sand shots, lucky chairs. With all that luck, was there any question where Thorpe was headed Friday night?

"Nope, and I'm headed there right now," said a grinning Thorpe, referring to his favorite haunt during Kroger week - Argosy Casino.

The rain-softened greens here were as receptive as pillows to a tired head. Most of the 81-man field took advantage, 48 of them finishing under par (28 of them in the 60s). That compares with 37 players under par last year, and only 16 in the 60s.

Last year - the first year here - the hard and fast greens were holding only slightly better than bushel baskets on a carnival midway.

"But the greens were so soft (Friday) we were getting some heel prints out there," Nelson said.

The fairways were so soft, the players were allowed to "lift, clean and place" their golf balls before hitting.

"I've heard some people refer to it as 'lift, clean and cheat,' and if you're doing it everywhere, I'd agree with that," Nelson said. "But if you hit in the fairway, you really should have a good lie anyway."

Of course, there are good lies, and then are good lies. Thorpe was so juiced after lifting, cleaning and placing his ball in the 18th fairway that he couldn't resist trying to hit a high, monster 3-wood (245 yards to clear the bunker) over a tree blocking the green on the right side, instead of his usual cut shot down the left side.

"I nailed it - thought it was absolutely perfect; I even re-gripped the club to get a pose going - but it hit the tree on the way down and went right into the hazard, so I dropped one and chipped it to a foot for a helluva five," he said.

Not only does Thorpe shoot low numbers - a 60 three weeks ago to win the Long Island Classic - he can make something out of nothing. Witness the par-4 fourth ...

"I tried to knock down a wedge from about 90 yards and kind of skulled it a little bit into the back bunker on the downslope with no green to work with," he said. "I blasted to a foot from the hole. I could put a hundred balls down right now and not get one within 20 feet."

On No. 9, he three-putted from 30 feet, but it wasn't enough to change his plans for Friday night.

Morgan didn't leave much to chance. Only 1-under par through eight holes - because he couldn't make a putt, even though he was lasering every iron shot to within 12 feet - he then began hitting it even closer and birdied six of the final 11 holes (including four of the last five) and had no bogeys. "I think the reason I wasn't making putts early is I was reading too much break," Morgan said. "I was having some flashbacks to last year."

You know a guy's striping it when the two longest putts he makes are 15 feet and yet he finishes 7 under. "Unless we get a lot of sun - and that's not the forecast - I don't think the course will dry out all that much to make a big difference," Morgan said.

Tied with Nelson at one back of Morgan was Ohioan Jerry McGee, 60, who could be celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary in grand style Sunday ($225,000 first prize).



• Second round (9:30 a.m.)

• Enquirer $10,000 Hole-In-One Challenge, hole No. 7 (all day)

• Dave Pelz Short-Game Clinic (1 p.m.)


• Final round (9:30 a.m.)

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