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Gary Woodland scores with a round of 64

The former college basketball player shares the third-round lead at the Bob Hope Classic with Venezuelan rookie Jhonattan Vegas.

January 21, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Gary Woodland checks his book on the 16th hole during the third round of the Bob Hope Classic at PGA West on Friday.
Gary Woodland checks his book on the 16th hole during the third round of the… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Honestly, if he had the choice, Gary Woodland would be playing NBA basketball. Instead, he is tied for the third-round lead in the Bob Hope Classic after shooting an eight-under-par 64 on Friday.

Still, the 26-year-old from Topeka, Kan., said the sports highlight in his life is having played a basketball game at storied Allen Fieldhouse, home to the University of Kansas. His Washburn University team lost to the Jayhawks and Woodland soon realized that, at 6 feet 1, the NBA was not his future. So he transferred to Kansas — to play golf.

Now his hope is to finish Saturday's fourth round before the Jayhawks tip off against Texas. This is not the usual wish of a golf co-leader.

But there it is. Woodland, who at 200 pounds is built more for driving off a tee than driving to the basket, is tied with another unlikely front runner, 26-year-old rookie Jhonattan Vegas, the second-round leader who is the first PGA Tour player from Venezuela.

Woodland's 64, which tied for the low round of the day, came on the Nicklaus Private course and gave him an 18-under-par 198 total. Vegas shot a five-under 67 on the SilverRock course.

This 90-hole tournament uses a rotation of four courses with everybody who makes the cut Saturday playing at the Palmer Private Course for Sunday's final round.

Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers trails by a shot and Scotsman Martin Laird by two. Second-round co-leader Boo Weekley fell five strokes off the lead after an even-par 72 at SilverRock.

Based on his leader status and maybe because he was hard to miss Friday, wearing all white, Vegas had a vocal little gallery following him. He is 6-2 and 230 pounds, and his powerful tee shots take off with a whoosh.

With his parents sitting proudly in the interview room, Vegas acted as if he were used to leading at a PGA Tour event. If only he had putted better, he said. He was especially displeased by missing a four-foot birdie putt on his final hole. "It was left-to-right that I missed," he said. "I had a few of those to make the round even better."

Only two players in Hope Classic history, Arnold Palmer and Charley Hoffman, won the event the first time they played it. Vegas is aiming to become the third and his easygoing swing and shot-making have so far seemed unaffected by his position at the top of the leaderboard.

"Only God knows what's going to happen," Vegas said. "I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing and have fun."

Woodland, who missed much of last year after having shoulder surgery, said the key to his low score was hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation. "I had a bunch of opportunities for birdies," he said. "I didn't make everything, but I made nine of them, so that was good enough."

Woodland, whose best finish is a tie for 21st and had never held a lead on Tour, reached that spot here because of steadiness and not flashiness. That's not something Woodland would have expected from himself a few years ago when he abandoned his beloved basketball and prided himself on whacking tee shots longer and harder than everyone else.

"When I got out here on the Tour, I was still just trying to hit the ball hard. I didn't really understand how to play golf. I came out here as an athlete trying to compete," he said.

Having shoulder surgery, having to watch and learn, Woodland said, taught many lessons. Of patience, of nuance and of appreciation. Were he to win Sunday, Woodland probably would get a chance to play at another sporting cathedral — Augusta National in the Masters. "I would like to get there," Woodland said.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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