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'Mr. Vegas' is tied for the lead in the desert

Tour rookie Jhonattan Vegas shoots a 67 at Nicklaus course and matches Boo Weekley at 13 under par after two rounds of the Bob Hope Classic.

January 20, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Jhonattan Vegas hits out of a bunker on the 13th hole during the second round of the Bob Hope Classic on Thursday.
Jhonattan Vegas hits out of a bunker on the 13th hole during the second round… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)

Jhonattan Vegas first learned about golf from his father, who had taken a side job retrieving range balls in their native Venezuela. He learned well.

The 26-year-old is tied for the lead of the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, alongside the man who might be his picture opposite — Boo Weekley, a bestubbled 37-year-old from Milton, Fla., who uses the word "ain't" with ease and who referred to his co-leader as "Mr. Vegas."

"First time I ever shook hands with him right there," Weekley said as he and Vegas passed on the way to the interview room. "You got to show a little respect, you know. I mean, he's on the leaderboard."

Vegas, playing in only his fifth PGA Tour start, seemed as if he'd barely broken a sweat while shooting a five-under-par 67 Thursday on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West. That gave him a two-round score of 13-under 131. Weekley earned the same two-day total with a 66 on the same course.

Charles Howell III and Chris Couch are a shot behind the leaders. First-round leader Derek Lamely plummeted to a tie for 18th after he shot a second-round 73, far from his opening round of 63.

David Duval, who in 1999 shot a 59 at this tournament, put himself into contention Thursday with a 67 on the La Quinta course and is four shots behind the leaders.

Pros in this event play 18 holes on each of four courses before Sunday's final and fifth round at the Palmer Private course and, as Weekley said, who's leading right now isn't so important.

"I don't really think it matters right now. I feel like we played the two easier golf courses, me and Mr. Vegas," Weekley said, referring to the Nicklaus and Palmer courses.

Vegas earned Weekley's respectful "Mister" by negotiating tricky conditions Thursday. There was unexpected early morning wind that left palm fronds blowing across some roads and some fairways.

"The start with the wind this morning was uncharacteristic for here," said Howell, who shot back-to-back 66s on the Nicklaus course and the Palmer.

Though Vegas, the first Venezuelan to play on the PGA Tour, was happy to be on the leaderboard here, he also talked about how the future of the game in his native country is at risk. President Hugo Chavez has called golf "elitist," Vegas said, and is threatening to appropriate Caracas Country Club and use the course as housing for people displaced by floods.

"I'd love to tell people in Venezuela about golf," he said, but Chavez "said that golf is for elite people, and we all know here it's not that way. But I guess he's got that mentality."

Vegas, who played college golf at Texas, would have been alone in the lead Thursday had he not bogeyed his final hole.

"It's never fun to finish with a bogey," he said.

Vegas has, though, birdied 17 holes over the first two days (tops in the field) and was a perfect 13-for-13 in fairways hit Thursday.

"It's good to be hitting the ball well on courses like these where you always get a lot of birdie opportunities," he said.

Weekley, who changed putters this week, grumbled about a couple of "misreads" on the greens but blamed himself and not the equipment.

"I feel good. It's the first time in a long time that I can honestly say I played two rounds of golf and got it in double digits," he said. "You got to be excited about it because that's still good golf. I don't care what course you're on. You still got to hit good, still got to putt good."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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