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It's a Strange Tactic, but the Man Is Desperate

Golf: Slumping player didn't practice for weeks, but he and O'Meara share lead at Shark Shootout.

November 16, 1996|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Curtis Strange did an odd thing recently, at least for him. Strange took his golf clubs out of the trunk of his car, put them away and didn't even look at them for weeks.

It was a trial separation. The last time Strange did something like that was, well, actually he has never done it before, at least since he turned pro in 1976.

"Didn't feel guilty about it, either," Strange said. "That's the scary part."

No, the truly scary part is when you have one top-10 finish, miss nine cuts in 24 events with seven of them in a nine-week span and you have one finish higher than a tie for 23rd in the last eight months.

Add to it the fact that you're about to turn 42 and you haven't won a tournament since 1989, and the question isn't why Strange decided to store his clubs for a while, but why he didn't just go ahead and blow the darned things up.

There's a simple reason.

"I certainly think I've got some good golf left," Strange said. "Fortunately, a lot of it's between my ears. It's just difficult sometimes."

Maybe so, but Strange and Mark O'Meara made it look fairly easy Friday at the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout. Their six-under-par 66 in an alternate-shot format matched the team of Chip Beck-Scott Hoch for the first-round lead in the 54-hole event at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.

Strange is hoping for a productive weekend, which might mean something good for next year, his 21st full season on the PGA Tour.

"I'm actually looking forward to '97," Strange said. "When you don't play well, it's work out there."

It has been work for Strange for a while. He hasn't won since he got the second of his two successive U.S. Open titles in 1989. Strange was 116th on the 1996 money list, but the $181,883 he won was his lowest yearly total since 1979, other than 1992, when he played in only 17 events.

Strange hasn't played since he missed the cut at the Buick Challenge in September. After that, he returned home to Kingsmill, Va., and put his clubs away for six weeks, except for a brief outing to Bermuda.

And after the Shark Shootout, Strange will put the clubs away again and trade them for a microphone, which he will use in his secondary career as a television announcer for the Skins Game and the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge.

Strange plans a five-tournament West Coast swing to begin 1997 and hopes for the best. He also promises not to beat himself up if it doesn't work out the way he plans.

"We're all hard on ourselves," he said. "That's why we got to this level, but when it's a struggle, it's a struggle, and it's been a struggle."

Three teams--Ray Floyd-Greg Norman, John Daly-David Duval and Jay Haas-Tom Kite--are one shot off the lead at 67 going into today's four-ball format, which begins at 7 a.m.

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