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Lighter Lehman Is No Stick in the Mud at Pebble Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The new Tom Lehman, the leaner, slimmed-down version, is the leader in what might be the leaner, slimmed-down AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am after two days, 18 holes and one complete round in the water and the mud and the muck.

Lehman is beginning 1998 about 25 pounds lighter than he began 1997, which means he’s down to 204 pounds--not counting the slabs of mud stuck to the bottom of his spikes.

Because of an unusual bit of scheduling, the final nine holes of the first round carried over from Thursday to Friday, and when 18 holes finally were completed, Lehman’s 64 put him one shot ahead of Phil Mickelson.

Lehman had three consecutive birdies beginning at No. 13 at Pebble Beach, where he rolled in a 15-footer. He made an eight-foot putt at No. 14, a 10-footer at No. 15 and decided he liked putting on soggy, green rugs.

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Mickelson completed his bogey-free 65 at Poppy Hills.

Next in line at 67 are Jesper Parnevik, Tom Watson, Paul Azinger, David Toms, Tom Pernice Jr., and Fulton Allem.

Tiger Woods and defending champion Mark O’Meara played together and both shot four-over 76, 12 strokes behind Lehman.

So, after two days, there are only 18 holes in the books as we head into a weekend that sees rain in the forecast through Monday.

A decision on whether it’s going to be a 54-hole or 72-hole tournament will be made by the end of play today.

The PGA Tour and tournament officials want a 72-hole event, which would mean a Monday conclusion. They would settle for 54 holes, but they hardly can be certain of getting that many if the weather is as bad as the forecast.

Parnevik tried to resist second-guessing the nine-holes-a-day scheduling, but couldn’t.

"[If] it would have been my choice, we would have played as much as possible the first two days,” he said. “But they must have a plan somewhere. I hope it works.”

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And if it doesn’t?

“Beg for good weather,” Parnevik said. “It’s a little bit too late now to hope for anything else.”

As for Lehman, he decided against worrying about something he cannot control.

“I guess maybe I found my stride playing nine holes a day,” he said.

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There’s something else Lehman has found: his belt buckle. Late last summer, Lehman realized he was too heavy, basically because of his eating habits. He often would skip breakfast, have a light lunch, then eat a full dinner late.

Now Lehman sets a 7 p.m. deadline for eating, does 400 sit-ups every day, eats wisely and works out. There was also another dietary supplement for Lehman.

“Stress,” he said. “The stress of playing under pressure a lot. In the Ryder Cup, for example. Traveling around the world. That kind of thing takes its toll on you. Once I started losing weight, I started to watch what I was eating, work out, do sit-ups, the whole nine yards.”

Winter rules that allowed players to lift, clean and place their balls were a huge advantage, according to Allem, who said it was worth three shots. He also said it would have been worth it to play more than nine holes Friday.

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“The sun is shining, and we’re not playing,” he said. “It’s like everybody is expecting us to play in the rain. God forbid we play in the good weather over here. Unbelievable. But it’s fun.”

Parnevik, who made five birdie putts of seven feet or less, wasn’t particularly surprised because he grew up playing in poor weather conditions in Sweden. What did surprise him and a few others was the nine-hole scheduling.

“Usually in other weeks they almost force us to play as many holes [as possible],” he said. “They force us to play in the dark if they have to, get us up at six in the morning the next day. It was a little bit different decision.”

It might be a poor one. In 1996, the tournament was washed out when only 36 holes could be finished. That might happen again.

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Parnevik was asked if Sweden has a rainy season.

“Yes,” he said, “pretty much all year . . . if it’s not snowing, that is.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

LEADERS

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Tom Lehman: 32-32--64 -8

Phil Mickelson: 33-32--65 -7

Tom Watson: 31-36--67 -5

Jesper Parnevik: 36-31--67 -5

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David Toms: 33-34--67 -5

Fulton Allem: 35-32--67 -5

Tom Pernice Jr.: 32-35--67 -5

Paul Azinger: 34-33--67 -5

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