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Rookie Scott Piercy is in the hunt at FBR Open

Winner of a rich made-for-TV event, he trails Kenny Perry by one shot with 18 holes to play.

February 01, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — For a while Saturday afternoon, a swarming PGA Tour event with 164,455 fans and 18 of the world's top 50 players became all about a guy whose golf ball bears a smiley face and whose most lucrative win came against a 43-year-old caddie.

It seemed something from the parallel-universe division, akin to the Arizona Cardinals reaching a Super Bowl or something.

Well, the FBR Open will grant free Super Sunday admission to anyone wearing the formerly gauche clothing line known as Cardinals gear, and a 30-year-old Las Vegan named Scott Piercy did rule TPC Scottsdale for a while by birdieing eight of the first 13 holes and leading by four shots.

"The hole looked like a five-gallon bucket," he said.

He fell off, of course, bogeying three of the last five to slip behind the No. 15 player in the world, Kenny Perry, whose 33-foot birdie on No. 18 took a slow, steady roll home to leave Perry at 12-under-par 201.

Yet Piercy remained firmly in contention at 11 under, one shot ahead of former Diamond Bar wunderkind Kevin Na, Brian Gay and Charley Hoffman, and two shots ahead of a seven-player horde that included sixth-ranked Geoff Ogilvy. "When it's hot in the kitchen, I like to be there," Piercy said. And as proof, he maintained the very weird chance of winning this thing as a PGA Tour rookie, gazing at the $1,080,000 check and finding it puny.

That's because it was pretty hot in the kitchen at the Wynn Las Vegas resort in June 2007, where the made-for-TV Ultimate Game offered a winner-take-almost-all prize of $2 million. In an event designed to foist pressure upon anonymous people, Piercy came to No. 13 trailing one Ken Jarner by three.

Jarner, a caddie from the Wynn staff, played the last six holes in two over, while Piercy birdied five of the last seven to win the $2 million on his fifth wedding anniversary.

Jarner reckoned Piercy ought to win, given Piercy's sprinkling of PGA Tour appearances starting in 2003, and Piercy exulted over his automatic qualification for the Pete Dye Classic on the Nationwide Tour.

He reached the PGA Tour by placing ninth in 2008 Nationwide earnings, and he's off to an auspicious start with top-20 finishes in Hawaii and La Quinta.

"I don't feel like a rookie, but I am a rookie," he said. "A rookie with experience, maybe. Playing 20 events before getting status definitely helps. It kind of makes me see if I belong in my heart of hearts, seeing the guys out here for 20 different weeks. I think I belong."

The golfers who do belong aren't always sure why, as seen on another loud day, with the area around No. 16 packed, even as many including Perry saw the throngs as diminished either through challenging economic times or challenging inebriation levels.

Na, 25, who supposedly ruined his life by turning pro at 17 but has earned $4.2 million since, and who has two top-five finishes here, felt lousy for four holes. Then his caddie started chatting about completely irrelevant stuff, Na punched a nifty seven-iron to the green on No. 5 and boom, on came a 66.

Ogilvy, the highest-ranked player to make the cut, straggled at a middling four under after nine holes, then played a back-nine 31 for a 65. "I can't really explain it," he said. "If I knew why it was working, I'd be able to fix it when I was playing bad."

And Perry, who deemed himself doomed after 14 holes Thursday, kept flourishing off the pivot of a first-round three-wood from 275 yards. He added a 66 to his Friday 63 as he hopes at 48 to increase his title total from 12 to 20. "You know what, it's amazing what one shot can do for you in a tournament," he said.

Finding the round "fun" and "very relaxing," he cavorted with a security guard and looked as happy as the whole Valley of the Sun. That's where they'll finish the golf today and then hold a Super Bowl party on the premises -- 25 plasma screens, pizza, barbecue and spinach-artichoke dip -- and where a leader's golf ball Saturday rolled to reveal an inked-in smiley face.

Piercy uses that to remember to smile, and he's had a life distinct enough to compare winning $2 million in front of nobody to trying to win $1 million in front of multitudes. "It's pretty similar," he said, "but there's a lot more people out there. It's a lot funner out here too."


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