BERMUDA DUNES, Calif. -- It is a marathon that is run like a sprint, an endurance test that cannot be won by pacing one's self. It is 90 holes of -- for cash.
"You've got to make 30 birdies this week to have a chance," said Neal Lancaster, who made five of them plus an eagle in a six-hole stretch yesterday at Indian Wells.
Lancaster shot a 7-under-par 29 on the back nine to complete TC round of 66 and tied Steve Elkington for the lead after 36 holes of the Bob Hope Classic, one of only two 90-hole tournaments on the PGA Tour.
Elkington, who won the Tournament of Champions last week, shot a 66 and is at 11-under 133. Gene Sauers, Brian Claar, Kenny Perry and Nolan Henke are a shot back, and Mark O'Meara and Fred Couples are among seven players two strokes behind.
Arnold Palmer, meanwhile, was unable to carry his first-round success into the second round. After shooting a 6-under 66 at Indian Wells, he shot a 2-over 74 at La Quinta and is at 4-under 140, seven shots behind the leaders.
Lancaster had the best nine of the day, Claar the best round. He shot a 9-under-par 63 at Bermuda Dunes. In fact, 96 of the 128 players are under par.
"You've got to figure 25- to 30-under every year," Lancaster said. "The scores are so low I'll have to shoot 66, 67 the next two days to have a chance."
Believe him. He understands mathematics, evident by how he concluded there was no future in pulling carts from a cart shed and working a cash register as an assistant club professional in Mount Olive, N.C.
"I was working 94 hours a week and making $167," he said. "I said, 'This isn't going to get it.' "
With $23 to his name, he loaded his van and set out to play the mini-tours. He won the first event and earned $2,400 and went on to earn $93,000 in 17 events. Then he qualified for the PGA Tour.
In two years on the tour, Lancaster has earned a relatively modest $265,805, a number not yet bulky enough to steady one's nerves, he said.
"They've got these guys, they call them seasoned veterans, who have made $4 million and I've made $265,000," he said. "What do they have to be nervous about? They've got all these endorsements. I don't have any endorsements. I have a reason to be nervous."
Lancaster, 29, wanted only to see the clubhouse yesterday. He shot a 37 on the front nine, then encountered a 20-minute wait on the 10th tee.
"I had plenty of time to be disgusted," he said.
He birdied 12 and 13 by making 4- and 5-foot putts, then hit a 5-iron second shot to within eight feet of the hole on the par-5 14th hole. He made that putt for an eagle.
"I was thinking, 'Just get it to the [club]house,' because I was playing so bad," he said. "Then I'm 3-under. At 15, I pulled my 7-iron shot and it went right at the pin. I hit a really bad putt and it fell in. Unreal.
"I hit a 9-iron to 12 feet at 16 and I said, 'Just give it a good roll and play it toward Indio,' and it rolled in.
"On 17, I hit a drive as hard as I could and had 100 yards to the flag. I hit it 10 feet and made it and now I'm really nervous."
At 18, he missed a 12-foot putt for a 28 and settled for a 29 that he hadn't seen coming two-plus hours earlier, when birdies were as elusive as bucks were a few years earlier.
"I really wanted to birdie 18 for 28," he said. "But I wasn't disgusted. It didn't seem like I was playing very good. I think I was playing so uptight, but waiting [at No. 10] got me so relaxed. I may never get that hot again. But I may get that hot again tomorrow morning. You never know."