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Out of the pack, into the lead

Posted: March 16, 2008 2:04 a.m.
Updated: May 17, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Brad Bryant leaps and plays with the gallery after his approach shot to the 18th green Saturday in the second round of the AT&T Champions Classic at the Valencia Country Club. Bryant leads the tournament at 7-under heading into today.

Having been off the Valencia Country Club course for some 20 minutes, Brad Bryant hung around the media room for a quick minute, looked at the AT&T Champions Classic leaderboard on a gray Saturday afternoon and broke into a smile.

"Me, Jay (Haas) and Bernard (Langer) tomorrow? That'll be fun to watch. I'd like to watch that on TV," Bryant said.
Bryant instead will view it on the course.

Trailing by four strokes coming into the second round, the 53-year-old is now alone atop the leaderboard at 7-under for the tournament after a putting clinic that gave him a 5-under 67 for the day. But a pack of close pursuers are on his tail.

If ever leader of the pack was an appropriate phrase for use, it was Saturday.

With the final group at the AT&T Champions Classic through 14 holes at Valencia Country Club, the leaderboard was jammed with eight golfers tied for the lead.

There are 12 golfers within two strokes of Bryant's lead heading into today's final round.

"To me, golf comes down to putting," said Jay Haas, who is one of five golfers at 5-under and tied for second. Haas shot 4-under on the day. "The guy that can hold the most, obviously Bernhard's (Langer, also tied for second) been playing very well ... The guy that makes the putts - that's the deciding factor."

It was last year, with Tom Purtzer nailing two clutch shots in a playoff to win it.

Bryant said his putting Saturday was a little uncharacteristic. His back-nine featured just 12 putts, as he one-putted the final six holes.

Two particular holes defined his day.

Bryant, who had five birdies and two bogeys, eagled No. 15. His approach shot left him 37 1/2 feet from the pin on the par-5 hole. He then rolled his next shot onto the green and into the cup.

He cleaned up on par-5s on Saturday, going 5-under.

On 18, another par-5, his approach shot up the hill played with the gallery's emotions, as it teased the cup.

Bryant threw up his arms and grinned from below.

"They were enjoying the show," he said. "We were just goofing off."

Off was a couple of Hall of Famers.

Hale Irwin, who led after two rounds last year, made a charge with 4-under on the front nine Saturday, but was 4-over on the back nine.

He is in 27th place at 1-over.

Two-time Classic winner Tom Kite, who was in the same group, started his day with an eagle and birdie, but trailed off with a round-two score of 3-over. He's at 4-over for the event.

Englishman Mark McNulty made a charge, having only one sub-70 round in 10 previous rounds at Valencia.

But his five-under Saturday tied Bryant for the best of the day. He stands in the group of seven at 4-under with Purtzer, who was 1-over on the day.

Rain dropped as the morning turned to afternoon with a slight chilly breeze.

It caused McNulty to take multiple wardrobe changes as the sun peaked out sporadically.

Sun and clouds are expected today with temperatures in the mid-50s with wind gusts.

But McNulty said the total game will be the ultimate decider.

"By the end of the week, the guy who plays the best is going to win. It's a bit of a cliché, but everything has to come to a fall here," McNulty said.

Nick Price, who led after one round, struggled to finish 5-over Saturday. He is now 1-under and tied for 17th.


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