Ten years after last victory, Janzen tries to get back on track

Ten years after last victory, Janzen tries to get back on track

Lee Janzen's last victory was at the 1998 U.S. Open.
Marc Feldman/Getty Images

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Lee Janzen is coming up on the 10-year anniversary of one of his biggest victories, a steady performance in the final round at The Olympic Club in San Francisco that brought him his second U.S. Open title.

That also was his last victory, and there are times it seems longer than a decade ago.

Janzen has been mired in a slump so bad that he lost his PGA Tour card two years ago, hasn’t finished in the top 125 on the money list the last three years and now is having to rely on sponsor exemptions.

His start at the PODS Championship brought some hope.

Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, in a stretch of competing three out of four weeks, Janzen holed a 65-foot putt from the fringe on the third hole, played a brilliant shot off the pine straw to 7 feet for birdie on the tough 16th, and wrapped up a 6-under 65 on Friday morning to share the first-round lead with Bart Bryant.

“I’ve worked on my game for quite a while,” Janzen said. “Eventually, you have to shoot better scores.”

Half the 144-man field had to return Friday morning to finish the first round because of rain and storms that stopped play for 2 1/2 hours Thursday, the first time all year a PGA Tour event was stopped by rain. Janzen was in the bad half of the draw, for the wind gusted to 20 mph in the morning, and more rain was due in the afternoon.

Stuart Appleby, among 72 players fighting for space on the practice range, finished off a bogey-free round of 66 and was joined by Kenny Perry, Jeff Maggert and Stewart Cink, who completed the first round Thursday morning.

John Senden, a runner-up last year to Mark Calcavecchia, Jerry Kelly and Paul Casey were among those who played well in the wind and moved up the board to finish at 67.

John Daly shot 77 and was struggling no matter whom he used as a caddie. Daly was 2 over through three holes when play was stopped by rain for the first time on the PGA Tour this year. He headed for the Hooters hospitality tent, ran into Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, and Gruden wound up on the bag until dark.

That was just another sideshow in the unpredictable world of Daly.

Janzen has been living a nightmare, but he hopes there are signs of turning things around.

“I shoot good scores on Mondays and Tuesdays and weeks off,” he said. “It’s just a matter of feeling the same way when you get into a tournament.”

He felt extremely confident heading to the Mayacoba Classic in Mexico two weeks ago, making eight birdies in 13 holes during a friendly match early in the week. Then he missed the cut.

“The good news was I didn’t leave there totally dejected,” Janzen said.

Bryant didn’t allow himself to get dejected after a few errant shots early in his round Thursday, especially when he saved par both times that kept his score at even par and his spirits in good shape. When he started hitting it better, he made putts. And before he knew it, he was at 4 under with three holes to play.

Then came birdies at the 16th and 18th holes, two of the toughest at Innisbrook.

“I felt like I got my bad stuff out of the way and I was still even par,” Bryant said. “I think that gave me a little confidence.”

Cink was playing for the first time since losing to Tiger Woods at the Accenture Match Play Championship, and while he suffered the worst beating in the 10-year history of the final match (8 and 7), he figured this was a continuation of good play.

“I had a lot of confidence after Match Play,” Cink said. “Even losing the last match, I was happy to be in the last match.”

Rain earlier in the week took some of the bite out of the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, regarded as one of the toughest tour tracks in Florida, and rarely has it played this easy.

Even so, it is a course that requires more brain than brawn.

“You can’t hit too many shots without putting thought into them,” Jonathan Byrd said after a 67.

The good news for Bryant is that he’s hitting shots without feeling too much pain. It seems every time he recovers from one surgery, another body part starts hurting, which was the case last year. Bryant said his right hip was in such bad shape that he took two months off during the summer. When he returned, his right elbow was acting up again, and he couldn’t practice the last three months of the season.

“No practice, just playing,” the 45-year-old said. “This year, I’ve been able to start hitting balls. My health has been good.”

The results are slowly coming along. It was only three years ago that Bryant’s career turned the corner with victories in the Memorial and the Tour Championship, the latter a six-shot victory over Woods.

Last week at the Honda Classic, he was among the leaders on Friday until taking a quadruple-bogey on the sixth hole that sent him back to the pack. Those big numbers can happen at PGA National, and Bryant wasn’t too bothered.

“It showed my game is in the kind of shape that I can get up there at the top,” he said.

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