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Floyd Puts Game Back on Course : Golf: At 47, he feared his Ryder Cup duties had dulled his will to win. But he leads the Masters by a stroke.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a day of renewed hope for two older players and a chance, perhaps, at redemption for another.

At 47, Raymond Floyd wondered whether he could be competitive again. His responsibilities as captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team have occupied much of his time for nearly two years. Yet, there he was at the top of the leader board after 36 holes of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National.

Floyd, who has won three major tournaments--the 1976 Masters, the 1982 PGA Championship and the 1986 U.S. Open--shot a four-under-par 68 Friday for a two-round total of 138, one stroke ahead of Scott Hoch.

Hoch also had a 68 and would have tied Floyd for the lead if Hoch hadn’t bogeyed the 18th hole. Hoch is trying to erase memories of last year’s tournament, in which he missed a two-foot putt in a playoff with Nick Faldo.

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Then there’s Jack Nicklaus, who, at 50, wants to become the first player to win on both the regular PGA Tour and the Senior PGA Tour in the same year.

Nicklaus won the seniors’ Tradition tournament at Scottsdale, Ariz., last week. Now, after a two-under-par 70, he is only four strokes behind Floyd at 142 in the tournament he has won six times--the last in 1986.

Mike Donald, the first-day leader with a 64, had an 82 and is at 146. John Huston, like Donald a first-time player here, held up much better. He followed his first-round 66 with a 74 and is at 140. Japan’s Jumbo Ozaki is at 141.

Peter Jacobsen, who had an opening-round 67, either led or was contending for the lead most of the day at five under par. But he took a double bogey at the par-five 13th hole, a bogey at No. 18 and finished at 75--142. He is in a group that includes Nicklaus, Craig Stadler and Tom Purtzer.

The course yielded only 12 subpar rounds on an alternately cloudy and sunny day with swirling winds.

It rained late in the day, when Floyd was still on the course, but it didn’t seem to hamper his round.

On the par-five, 535-yard eighth hole, Floyd didn’t think he could reach the green with his three-wood second shot, 262 yards from the pin. But he ended up only 12 feet from the cup and sank the putt for an eagle.

“Obviously, I’m tickled pink,” Floyd said. “I let it get away from me yesterday with bogeys at 16 and 18 (during a round of 70). But I played the par fives in five under today.

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“I didn’t start working on my game until last December. But when you get away from the game as I did--and I’ve always had a pretty good work ethic--I didn’t know if I could play anymore.

“It’s a nice reward to see that I can be competitive. On any given day, I can play as well as I can remember, but I’m just not as consistent.”

Asked if he believes he has a chance to win his fourth major title, Floyd said: “I just enjoy being here. I’m having so much fun. I just want to control myself and let things happen.”

Hoch believes that Floyd, an intense competitor, has a chance, saying: “His eyes get bug-eyed and he can smell it.”

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Hoch had held a news conference Tuesday to put away the past. He wanted to get all the lingering questions out of the way as to how he blew the Masters championship last year and, as he said, to get some things off his chest.

“I thought that Tuesday would be the last time I would see you people,” Hoch said in the interview room.

He has been bothered by tendinitis in his left hand and had to withdraw from the Players Championship last month. However, he said his hand is “110%" now and his game reflected it. Asked about his goal here, Hoch said: “Hopefully, I can play as well here as I did last year.”

It is sometimes forgotten that Hoch had to play well even to get into a playoff with Faldo. Hoch said earlier that he had been ridiculed by some members of the media for failing to win the Masters last year because of his missed putt. He said that Curtis Strange, who blew an opportunity to win the Masters in the final round in 1985, told him to keep his head high.

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“The other players were very supportive, too, especially the better players,” Hoch said. “They said it has happened to them. Some of the players kidded me, though, for losing to a foreigner.”

Hoch doesn’t believe he is under any pressure on the course to make up for last year. “That’s something I can deal with,” he said. “That’s the easiest part.”

Hoch had seven birdies and three bogeys. He was six under par when he reached the par-four 18th hole. However, he drove into a fairway bunker, came out with a seven-iron, short of the green, and two-putted for his bogey.

Nicklaus was encouraged about his play.

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A legend already with 20 victories in major tournaments, Nicklaus said he was halfway to his goal of winning on both tours. “I’d like to get the rest this week,” he added.

Nicklaus said he has worked on his golf game this year more than he has in several years, and also has lost about 15 pounds to get in better shape.

“When I won the Masters in 1986, I thought I would be a semi-ceremonial golfer,” Nicklaus said. So, with his many business ventures, he restricted his appearances on the regular tour. But that didn’t satisfy him.

“It didn’t come off,” Nicklaus said, “like walking off the course after shooting 76-71, missing the cut and going on to the next week. I didn’t know how to get the proper mix.”

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He still retains some of his old fire. “I played two good rounds here, but I didn’t get everything out of them,” he said. “My scores could be a whole lot lower.”

He will have that opportunity in the final 36 holes on a course that has been suited to him in the past.


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