Katherine Hull made birdies on 17 and 18 to shoot a four-under 68.
Maria Strinni Gill/AP
Saturday, February 23, 2008

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico (AP) — Nick Price came to the Riviera Maya feeling good about his retooled swing. Having given up on trying to launch the ball higher, he'd already seen immediate results.

Then he arrived Friday for the second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Feeling the stiff wind blowing off the Caribbean Sea, Price wondered whether his new trajectory could handle it.

No problema. Price shot one of the best rounds of the day, a 2-under 68 that moved him to 2-under 138 for the tournament, putting him into a tie for eighth and into the weekend in his first PGA Tour start since 2006.

"I've got to pull something out of the hat if I'm going to have a chance," Price said. "But to be honest, I'm just happy to be playing here and also to have made the cut. My game the last 2 1/2 years has not been good, and my debut on the Champions Tour last year was not good. And just in the last month or so, I've turned my game around. ... I've bottomed out and I'm looking to get back up again. It's nice to be enthusiastic about playing again."

While Price moved into contention, the other World Golf Hall of Famer in the field — Greg Norman — packed up and left after a 79.

Despite all his advantages for having designed the El Cameleon course, the Shark went through an early five-hole stretch of three bogeys and a double bogey. He finished at 9 over, missing the cut by five strokes.

"It was a tough day to play if you don't play under these conditions on a regular basis," Norman said. "If your swing is a little bit out, you're going to pay the price. I never got into the synch or rhythm of it until the end of it. My putting was still very poor to average, so I paid the price."

First-round leader John Merrick shot a 68 to remain on top at 8-under 132. Brian Gay was a stroke back after a 67.

Merrick and Gay were both well under par through two rounds of last year's inaugural Mayakoba event, then neither broke par the final two rounds. That's probably not something they'll want to discuss in the final pairing Saturday.

"I'm going to try to just stick to my swing keys and putting keys that's been working so far and see what happens," Merrick said.

Nick Flanagan had the lowest round Friday, a 66. Only 16 players broke par while battling coastal gusts of 25-30 mph, up from 15-20 mph Thursday.

"I think it's set up perfect for the way the wind blows," Merrick said, certainly to Norman's delight. "There's a lot of room out there that they give you, and it's just hard with the wind blowing in your face. You get the ball up in the air curving, it can go in the swamp area or whatever. It's a challenging course. The scores aren't that low, so it's hard."

Merrick and Gay are seeking their first PGA Tour wins, as are many of the others tied for eighth or better. The group has 24 victories; 18 belong to Price.

Now 51, Price got into this tournament on a sponsor exemption. He has proven he belongs by using his experience — and new swing — to handle the wind, which alternates between in your face, at your back and sideways depending on the hole.

"This course being so narrow, it puts a premium on driving the ball straight and I did today," Price said. "I played very cautiously. I played smart golf today."

He also was sound fundamentally.

In January, Price realized the kink in his swing was his upper body hanging behind the ball at an angle to try getting more air under it. Working with David Leadbetter, he's gotten back into the habit of keeping his spine straight.

"It made a huge difference," he said. "I mean, I still think I've got a ways to go but I'm hitting quality golf shots now. And it's not just two or three, it's five or six shots. And I'm hitting good quality golf shots that are finishing; even when I hit a poor one, it still finishes in a position where I can save from."

Before the change, Price said he never would've been able to tame Friday's wind.

"A day like today, it was going to kill you," he said. "I hit a lot of good shot today into the wind. In fact, I actually hit better shots into the wind today than I did downwind. ... I'm probably about 75 to 80 percent of where I know I can be with my swing now but at least I'm on the way up, and you know, I'm on the improvement."

Norman hasn't made the cut on the PGA Tour since the 2005 British Open, but this was only his fourth event since then. His last time out was just a few weeks ago at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which he only entered because his son wanted to play with him.

He didn't look rusty Thursday when he shot out to 4-under and was tied for fifth. But he didn't have another birdie that round or at all on Friday. At least he closed with two pars under the watch of his fiance, former tennis star Chris Evert. She offered a reason for his poor performance, too, saying, "He's sick as a dog, but won't admit it." Norman had said earlier in the week that he was fighting a head cold.

Norman said he's not planning to compete again any time soon. As for an annual appearance in this tournament — the PGA Tour's only visit south of the border — he said it's possible. He missed last year's inaugural event because of health reasons.

"I have to come here anyway for a dinner on Tuesday, so, why not?" he said. "We'll see what happens next year."

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