NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — The two teams that tied for the lead of the Shark Shootout arrived there different ways during Friday’s first round.
Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were hot on the front nine, while Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank caught fire on the back. The end result was the same: 6-under 66s at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
“One side went so well, and the other side … we were fighting and nothing was going right,” said Stricker, the world’s No. 3 player.
“It was fun,” said Kelly, who won the Shootout event with Rod Pampling in 2006 in a playoff with Leonard and Verplank. “Not that the backside wasn’t fun, but we just kind of hit that wall.”
Kelly and Stricker birdied No. 5, eagled No. 6, birdied Nos. 7-9, then added another birdie on No. 12. But they struggled after that, playing the final six holes in 1 over.
“Just a lot of little things,” Stricker said. “We didn’t make the putts. We hit some good putts that went over the edges.”
Leonard and Verplank did the opposite, with birdies on four of their last six holes. They were 3 under after six, but double-bogeyed No. 9.
“We played well on the back nine,” Verplank said. “We played good on the front, but had a little hiccup on the ninth hole. We pretty much butchered that hole from the get-go.”
Tim Clark and Chad Campbell were in third place, one shot back at 5 under, along with Steve Flesch and Dustin Johnson. Chris DiMarco and Rickie Fowler, the 20-year-old who is the youngest player in Shootout history, were tied for sixth with two other teams at 3 under.
The tournament hosted by Greg Norman continues through Sunday. Teams will play better ball Saturday and a scramble Sunday.
It’s the first time that Norman, who had shoulder surgery in September, isn’t playing in his event.
Verplank helped the pair finish off the round starting on the par-5 17th. He was in pine straw well off the green and behind the gallery ropes and trying to decide among a 6- or 7-iron and a putter. He decided to putt it.
“The grass is so firm and it’s cut so low around the greens that I had more confidence in just whacking at it with a putter,” Verplank said.
Verplank nearly holed it out. Leonard then closed it out with a 25-foot birdie on the 18th.
Clark started the round with a 40-footer for birdie on No. 2, and finished it with a 9-footer on No. 18.
“It’s nice to always finish your round with a birdie, regardless of what the score is,” Clark said.
Clark and Campbell stayed in contention despite not doing well on the par-5s. They had three pars and a bogey.
Flesch, a late replacement for the injured Fred Couples, and Johnson birdied four of the last six holes. Ross Fisher and Ian Poulter survived a triple-bogey on the third hole to finish at 4 under.