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Alex Cejka leads by two at the Players

GOLF

German is going for his first PGA Tour victory. Tiger Woods is 'just plodding along,' seven shots back.

May 09, 2009|Teddy Greenstein

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. — Two rounds of the Players Championship have produced a leaderboard worthy of the United Nations.

Leader Alex Cejka, who fired a five-under-par 67 to go 11 under par, represents Germany. Ian Poulter (nine under) waves the British flag, and Masters champion Angel Cabrera (seven under) has Argentina covered.

Fans longing for a delegation from Southern California -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- instead have Kevin Na, whose family moved from South Korea to the Southland when he was 8.

Na shot a bogey-free 66, and Masters champion Cabrera carded a 65, tying for the day's low round with Daniel Chopra of Sweden.

Only one man has won the Masters and Players in the same year. Woods accomplished the feat in 2001.

Woods tied for sixth last month at Augusta National, and he's tied for 22nd at the Players, seven behind Cejka, after shooting 71-69.

"I just kind of plodded my way along today," he said after hitting only seven of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation.

He could learn from the efficient Cejka, who has found the short grass on 82.1% of his drives at TPC Sawgrass.

Cejka (pronounced CHAY-ka) might not win here, but he certainly won't give up. He never does.

As a teenager learning the game near Frankfurt, he idolized Bernhard Langer, who won the 1985 Masters. Cejka would sneak out of school to watch him play in pro-ams.

One in particular was played in a driving rainstorm. Cejka recalled being nearly alone watching him.

"I remember the first time I approached him," Cejka said. "He goes to the tee and takes his rain jacket off. And I'm like: 'Mr. Langer, can I hold your jacket?' And he just looked at me and threw it in the water.

"I followed him for 18 holes, and he shot like one under par. I told him, 'Great round' and expected that I'd get a ball or something. Nothing, he just walked past me."

But that didn't deter Cejka when he finally met his idol: "I told him the story a couple of years later and he couldn't remember. But that's not typical Bernhard Langer; everybody knows he's a nice guy."

Langer might draw high marks, but Cejka's father, also named Alex, is the true hero in his life.

When the younger Alex was 9, his father loaded a backpack and took his son on what he called a vacation. They actually were fleeing Communist Czechoslovakia. They traversed Yugoslavia, Italy and Switzerland, traveling by foot, train, bike -- even swimming across the Rhine.

The significance of the journey didn't hit Cejka until they reached West Germany and his father proclaimed: "We did it. We did it."

The 38-year-old Cejka never has finished better than second on the PGA Tour and entered with a World Golf Ranking of 267. And just a week ago, he took a cortisone shot in his neck to rectify a pinched nerve that caused numbness in one of his arms.

But he's feeling it this week. And he's in prime position for a breakthrough.

--

tgreenstein@tribune.com

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