PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Dudley Hart faced his greatest fears last summer when doctors found a softball-sized lump on his wife’s lung, which kept him off tour the last half of the season to care for his triplets while she recovered.
All things considered, staring down Vijay Singh in the final round at Pebble Beach no longer seems as intimidating.
Hart, who hasn’t been in serious contention in nearly four years, finally got the best of Spyglass Hill on Saturday with a bogey-free round of 4-under 68 for a share of the lead with Singh at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Singh made an eagle on the par-5 12th at Spyglass on his way to a 67 to join Hart at 9-under 207, the highest score to lead after 54 holes at Pebble Beach since 1990.
They were two shots ahead of PGA Tour rookie Dustin Johnson and Michael Allen.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson lost all hope of being the first repeat winner at Pebble since Mark O’Meara in 1989-90 when he took an 11 on the par-5 14th and went from trying to stay in contention to missing the cut. He finished with a 78.
Hart atop the leaderboard is surprising for a couple of reasons.
He has not had at least a share of the lead since the 1996 Canadian Open, which he went on to win for the first of his two victories. And he is still trying to get back into a rhythm of tour life after a summer of uncertainty involving wife Suzanne, who had two-thirds of her right lung removed but is getting back to normal.
“It opens your eyes to what’s truly important sometimes,” Hart said. “I think we all take for granted what we have, whatever we’re doing, and take our health for granted. It definitely scared me. I kept looking at those kids and I can’t imagine … God forbid, when they get that tumor out, it comes back bad and they don’t have their mom around. That fortunately wasn’t the issue.
“You have a lot of positive and negative thoughts, but the negative ones really scare you.”
It’s been all good at Pebble, from his share of the lead to weather that makes the Monterey Peninsula feel like paradise.
Saturday at Pebble traditionally is for the celebrities, and their antics were limited to leaping into the gallery at the 15th tee and being passed through the crowd, although they struggled with hefty actor Kevin James.
The best golf, and at times zaniest, golf was held elsewhere on the peninsula.
Hart traditionally struggles with Spyglass, and he had his moments. He made good escapes from the bunker on No. 9 and 16 to save par, made birdies on the short par 3s, and finished with two birdies that put him atop the leaderboard.
Johnson, who made it through all three stages of Q-school last year, shot a 68 at Pebble Beach that included a wedge he holed out from 85 yards for eagle on No. 13.
The group at 6-under 210 included Steve Lowery, who had two double bogeys, six birdies and one par on the back nine at Poppy Hills that eventually added to a 70. Also in that group was 20-year-old Jason Day of Australia, who made six birdies at Pebble Beach to overcome some sloppy errors on his way to a 71.
Singh brought some star power to a leaderboard that had been littered with Nationwide Tour graduates for most of the week, and he might have had the lead outright except for missing birdie putts of 4 feet and 7 feet on the final two holes.
He won at Pebble in 2004, the first of his nine victories that year, and is getting closer to feeling comfortable with his swing changes. Four tournaments into the year, Singh does not have a top 10, and the last time he went five events at the start of a season without a top 10 was in 1997.
“I just need to make some putts tomorrow,” Singh said.
Hart is happy to be playing.
He was at The Players Championship last year when his wife, who had been coping with a bad cough, went to the doctor. The original diagnosis was pneumonia, but the doctors called back and said they discovered a mass on her lungs.
She spent a month in the hospital and had surgery on May 21 — her 36th birthday — to remove the tumor. Hart said the tumor had cancer cells on it, but doctors told him it wasn’t cancerous.
“In a nutshell, we got very lucky,” he said. “They have to keep a close eye on her. She has to go get checked up every three months for a year, but so far the checkups have been good. They just want to make sure nothing grows back.”
In the meantime, the PGA Tour amended its major medical extension policy to include “family crisis,” which was awarded to Hart and David Duval, whose wife was on bed rest the final six months of her pregnancy.
That means Hart has 15 tournaments to earn $485,931 — the equivalent of No. 125 on the money list last year — and this would be a good way to take care of that. Hart is far more interested in winning, which he hasn’t done since the Honda Classic in 2000.
“I know there’s a lot of work tomorrow, but I’m happy to have a chance,” he said. “It’s a lot better than barely making the cut and going out there and trying to shoot 60 to make any kind of move. It’s just nice to see something positive happen.”
The cut in this pro-am event is top 60 and ties, and 60 players made it at 1 under. Among the casualties were FBR Open winner J.B. Holmes, who shot 78 at Poppy Hills, and Bob Hope winner D.J. Trahan, who took double bogey on the last hole at Pebble to miss one shot.
Greg Norman, playing for the first time on the PGA Tour in 18 months, shot 79 at Pebble Beach and missed it by 10 shots.