Golfer's life is good enough for Paraguay's Franco

4-under 68 makes him tied for fifth, 3 behind leader

The Masters

Notebook

April 11, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, GA. — AUGUSTA, Ga.-- Carlos Franco is already a national hero in Paraguay for the way he has battled up from poverty to become a millionaire golfer.

What he doesn't want to become is president of his impoverished South American country.

"If I win the Masters, maybe I'll be the new president," he said yesterday. "I will not accept, there are too many problems."

Franco, 33, put himself in position for one of golf's major championships with a 4-under 68 in the third round of the 63rd Masters.

It left him tied for fifth, three shots behind Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain.

"After today, I am more and more confident," said Franco. "I am not only playing for myself and my country, I am playing for all of Latin America."

Negotiating the tricky greens of Augusta National is certainly not a daunting task to someone who grew up in a one-room shack with an outhouse out back.

"I feel very lucky," he said earlier this week.

A star on the Japanese Tour, Franco is starting to make an impact on the PGA Tour.

He made it to the third round of the Andersen Consulting World Match Play championship in January, and finished tied for third in last month's Honda Classic. He had missed the cut the past two weeks, in part because of homesickness.

"This is far from home," said Franco, whose career began as a caddie for $3 a round. "It affects me. Playing alone here for three or four weeks is hard. I miss my wife and two children."

Franco is considering moving his family to Miami. But if he wins today, there's that presidency to consider. Franco will gladly accept only the coveted green jacket.

"I think I can create something here and surprise the people," he said.

Kuchar still in hunt

Matt Kuchar won't finish as high as he did last year, when he tied for 21st at even par, the best score for an amateur in 21 years.

But after battling the flu all week, the Georgia Tech junior still has a chance to finish low amateur and earn an invitation back next year.

A 1-over par-73 yesterday left Kuchar at 5-over-par 221, one shot behind Tom McKnight and one ahead of Spain's Sergio Garcia.

"Last year was just a fairy tale; everything that could go right did," said Kuchar, 20. "It was a dream come true. This year I can't say it's turned out the way I thought."

Kuchar has still provided some magic, including a birdie putt on 12, holing out for eagle from a bunker near the 13th green Friday and chipping in for birdie from the fringe at 14.

When he got to Amen Corner yesterday, he knew an encore would be difficult.

"I thought about it," he said. "I made bogey on 12 and I said, `There's two shots. If I par 13, there's two shots. I birdied 13 and I lost one shot."

Kuchar plans on returning to school for his senior year. First he'll play in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C., the Greater Hartford Open, the Loch Lomond Invitational in Scotland and, he hopes, the British Open at Carnoustie.

He also hopes to play in the Walker Cup.

"He's still a little kid," said Peter Kuchar, who carried his son's bag again this year. "And he wants to stay one as long as possible."

The elder Kuchar admits that his son's celebrity has helped his insurance business down in Florida.

"People now return my phone calls," he said.

O'Meara proud of play

It wasn't quite a concession speech, but defending champion Mark O'Meara doesn't seem overly optimistic about his chances after a 3-under-par 69 left him at 1-under 215.

"I needed to be 3- or 4-under to have a chance," said O'Meara. "But I'm proud of how I defended."

Faxon makes move

Also among those at 1-under was Brad Faxon, who after rounds of 74 and 73 shot a 4-under 68 yesterday to climb within the periphery of the hunt.

"That was my best round at the Masters," said Faxon. "I had everything in control. It's the best I've played in a while."

The most excitement Faxon has ever had here didn't involve the way he played Augusta National. It involved his father, Brad Sr.

A few years back, the elder Faxon was coming in from the airport and was dropped off at the address he thought he was given.

With the door to the kitchen ajar, Faxon walked in the house. When the telephone rang, he went to answer it by the stairs.

At the top of stairs, a strange women greeted him. She had just come out of the shower and was wrapped in a towel.

"I'm Colin Montgomerie's wife," she said, "and who might you be?"

Seems that his son's house had the same street name and address, but was around the block on a court.

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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