Two Players Shoot 61, but It's Old Story at Hope

Times Staff Writer

It was right there on the scoreboard:

Jay Haas, 61.

There's only one question ... is that his score or his age?

Oh, it was his score, all right, and it was the best one the 49-year-old Haas has had in 112 rounds covering 24 years of his participation in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which he leads by one shot over Harrison Frazar.

Actually, it's Haas' best round ever, which goes back a long way, to his first full year as a pro in 1977, and that is so long ago that some tot in Cypress named Tiger Woods was not yet 2.

Somebody asked Haas to describe his 61 Thursday.

"Magical," said Haas, who found the Palmer Course at PGA West much to his liking.

As it turns out, they were spreading the magic a little thick in the second round of the Hope.

Pat Perez also shot a 61, laying waste to par at Bermuda Dunes. And Frazar fell one shot short of magic with a 62 at Indian Wells, but he did eagle the 18th with a six-iron second shot that left him two feet from the hole.

After rounds of 67-61, Haas is at 16 under par, but it's not a terribly comfortable feeling because there are 13 players within four shots of him. In fact, there is only one strategy around here.

"You just want to try to birdie every hole," Davis Love III said. "That's really all you can do."

Haas won here in 1988 when his score was 338. That same score would have put him 27th last year.

For that reason, Haas knows the only sane route to take is to keep your head down and plow ahead.

"I'm just trying to see where the finish line is rather than think each day you have to shoot X-amount under par," he said.

Perez is a huge talent in the making, but he is perhaps best known for trashing his clubs in the fairway last year at Pebble Beach as he lost the lead and the tournament. Even though he said he didn't feel well Thursday morning before he began, Perez was 10 under through the first 11 holes. He could have gone crazy low, but he collected only one birdie the rest of the way and had to settle for a tie for third with Stephen Ames and Joe Durant.

The way he started, Perez was thinking about something along the lines of a 58.

"I figure, yeah, why not?" he said. "No one has shot 58. I might as well become the first one. All I know is I got to make 18 more birdies the next three days to win, minimum, to even have a chance. I'm sure you'll see another 61 ... maybe a 60."

But what you won't see, at least after the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am next week, is Perez talking about his year-old monumental meltdown. Perez had taken a one-shot lead with one hole to go, but he made a triple bogey and Matt Gogel overtook him. Perez had tried to bury his clubs in the fairway.

"The media has done nothing but bring up Pebble. I honestly can't wait for next week and it's over. After next week, I'm not talking about it ever. It's done after Tuesday. People lose tournaments all the time. But for some reason, it always seems to come up with me."

Meanwhile, there were a lot of players making a lot of birdies in the desert.

In his first event this year, Love showed he knows how to go with the flow and tossed an eight-under 64 at La Quinta. Love is tied for sixth with Mike Weir and Rodney Pampling. Weir had a 64 at PGA West, where Pampling had a 66.

Haas chipped in to start and birdied the next three holes. He was even better on the back and shot a 30, with six birdies in nine holes.

The senior tour, or Champions Tour, can wait awhile, said Haas, who turns 50 on Dec. 2.

"I feel like this is the major leagues right here," he said. "This is what I want to do for as long as I can do it. This is one of the thrills of my career today just to shoot a round like this in a field like this.

"I'm not wishing away another year here real quick so I can play on the senior tour."

Speaking of wishful thinking, defending champion Phil Mickelson needs some. Mickelson had a 68 at PGA West, but he's tied for 64th at six-under 138 and knows he must make a move today at Indian Wells to have a chance.

"I've got to get 10 or 11 under at Indian Wells, then I'm 16 or 17 under for the weekend," he said.

The news for David Duval wasn't as good. He followed his first-round 65 with a 78 and dropped from a tie for fifth to a tie for 112th.

Frazar, who tied for third last week at Phoenix after opening with a 62, says there is a long way to go with some very favorable conditions for scoring.

"The golf courses are relatively easy, but playing out here is like playing in a dome ... they are so good, the greens are perfect."

When the conversations turn to how entirely possible shooting a 59 is, standing up for the opposite opinion could be indefensible.

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