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Shane Bertsch takes lead at Hope with a 62

GOLF

At 39, he turns in a 10-under-par performance despite wind and rain. Jeff Quinney and Alex Prugh are tied for second, two shots back.

January 21, 2010|By Diane Pucin

Reporting from La Quinta — Shane Bertsch might have been playing in the Australian Open tennis tournament, where they have roofs for when it rains.

Instead he is the first-round leader of the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament in the rainy desert. Bertsch shot a 10-under-par 62 Wednesday on the Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West. This five-round event has golfers play four courses.

Jeff Quinney, who finished second to Phil Mickelson at the 2008 Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, and Alex Prugh, 25, a former University of Washington golfer who is playing in only this third PGA Tour event, are tied for second, two shots behind Bertsch.

Mike Weir, the highest-ranked golfer (37th) in this undistinguished field, turned in a 67, five shots off the lead. Defending champion Pat Perez, who played the SilverRock Resort course, is six behind after his 68.

Bertsch, who sat back in a deep chair for an interview after his round, his chin covered in stubble, was so relaxed it appeared he had just settled down to watch television and not describe a tournament-leading round of golf.

He recounted that once, at a tennis tournament in his home of Denver, he played a junior match against Andre Agassi.

"If I would have beaten Agassi I would probably have had to pursue tennis," Bertsch, 39, said. "But that wasn't even in the realm of possibilities. I mean, he was so far and above everyone at that age. I was able to get a game off him. He beat me 6-0, 6-1 or something. But that was a pretty good accomplishment for me."

Bertsch, who became a professional golfer in 1994, played only two PGA Tour events last year and missed the cut both times. This is the first time in his career that Bertsch has held a first-round lead.

"I was just comfortable," he said.

Unlike a lot of pros who don't enjoy the format here, which has the guys trying to earn a check paired up with amateurs for four rounds, Bertsch said this tournament suits him.

"I like these formats because I help the guys out and it kind of keeps me maybe not so focused on myself so much until it's time to hit. Then I just go and hit."

Weather conditions were tricky for the field all day, but a huge downpour stayed away until everyone had finished the first round.

Prugh, who also played at the Nicklaus course, said, "I was walking off nine, we had a little wind, kind of coming off the right. And then all of a sudden I walk up 10 and there's a wait. I see Vaughn Taylor sitting there and I thought, 'Great, he's waiting.'

"And it starts blowing and it's right into the wind and I'm like, 'This 238 carry is going to be a little more difficult than I was expecting,' " Prugh said of the hole, which features a deep bunker in the center of the fairway. "I made it by about six inches."

Bertsch started his round on the back nine of the Nicklaus course with back-to-back birdies. And he started his back nine (on the first hole actually) by making a 20-foot birdie putt.

"I had a couple of other chances, but it was just one of those rounds where everything kind of flowed together," Bertsch said. "I didn't do anything over-the-top great, but my game was pretty solid all the way around."

Today's forecast is for serious rain. Tournament officials have said they would play a final round Monday if necessary.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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