Hoch opens up, climbs within 2 of Elkington Break in his silence follows 3rd-round 65

March 30, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- If the "X-Files" is looking for a scriptwriter, Scott Hoch is available.

Hoch expounded on several conspiracy theories yesterday, as he explained his recent silence with the media. He was also full of birdies, shooting a 7-under 65 at The Players Course at Sawgrass to add some suspense to Steve Elkington's bid for his second win at the TPC.

When Elkington birdied No. 11, he had a five-shot lead on Hoch, but the spread was shaved to two strokes by the end of the third round. The Australian bogeyed the last two holes but still finished with a 68, which left him at 13-under. Hoch is at 11-under heading into today's final round, in which he and Elkington will be paired together.

Billy Andrade (68) and Tom Purtzer (69) are at 8-under. Kirk Triplett (70) was alone at 7-under, and Mark Brooks (70), Tommy Tolles (73) and Larry Mize (74) were seven strokes back at 6-under and in need of some faltering from the guys atop the leader board.

Afterward, Hoch talked a little about the best round of the tournament, and a lot about why he hasn't talked to the media lately. Why did he break his silence?

"The threat of my purse being turned over to charity," Hoch said. "No, I'm just kidding."

And why the silence in the first place?

"Too many times, they haven't let the facts get in the way of a good story," Hoch said, in reference to some articles in which he feels his words have been taken out of context. "I just finally said, 'Enough's enough.' I said. 'If you're going to write what you want anyway, why do you need me?'

"If I'm wrong or say something stupid, I pretty much own up to it. I just tell the truth. I'm not going to sugarcoat anything."

When Hoch was asked to explain why he wouldn't play in the British Open last year, he slammed the Old Course at St. Andrews, calling it the "worst piece of mess." Hoch said he was knocking a course and not the tournament, but for some, it was akin to criticizing the artwork at the Sistine Chapel.

Hoch has had a chilly relationship with the media since the 1989 Masters, when he missed a short putt in a playoff that opened the door for Nick Faldo's first win at Augusta National. Other Sunday flameouts are dredged up. If you were Scott and national magazines were writing that it's "Hoch, as in choke," would you want to talk?

Hoch's game spoke volumes yesterday. After rounds of 69 and 71, he started the day five strokes behind Elkington. Hoch, who had seven birdies and not a single bogey, charged with birdie putts of 3, 5 and 15 feet on Nos. 10, 11 and 12, respectively. He got his last birdie on No. 16, after he chipped to within 3 feet on the par-5.

Hoch, who is playing on the weekend here for only the second time since 1987, credited a tip from his father to explain why he needed only 25 putts.

"Whenever your parents tell you something, you always say, 'No, that can't be it.' " Hoch said of his reluctance to listen. "He just told me to flex my knees a little more. Monday, he looked at a tape from about two or three of my wins, and that's what he came up with. I got on the practice green this morning and tried it, and it felt pretty good."

Hoch saved par with a nice 30-yard chip on wind-swept No. 18. Elkington's travail there was even more dicey, as his approach flew right and nearly into the gallery. He got relief from a railroad tie, but couldn't save par.

"My bogey-bogey finish wasn't what I wanted, but it didn't upset me," said Elkington, who doubled-bogeyed 18 in the first round. "I really felt like I played well. It didn't spoil my dinner, but it almost did. You can make bogey-bogey easy coming in here."

Elkington birdied four of the first six holes en route to a 32 on the front nine. He got to 6-under for the day with two more birdies on Nos. 10 and 11, but then lost some of his momentum.

Today, he'll attempt to become only the third wire-to-wire champion at The Players. Fellow Aussie Greg Norman was the last to accomplish the feat, in 1994, when he set the scoring record of 24-under. He also can join Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples as the only men to win The Players more than once.

"I'm really just playing my game," said Elkington, who hasn't won on the tour since he took the PGA in 1995. "I'm not really concerned about what everyone else is doing. I'm staying away from trouble and hitting some great iron shots."

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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