Hammond, 1 back, aims high in Kemper

Lowery leads despite heat-caused woes

June 03, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC - When he was a child in Frederick, Donnie Hammond spent a lot of time gazing at the sky, searching for the Little Dipper, the Big Dipper and the belt of Orion.

Unfortunately, there aren't any known celestial bodies particularly symbolic for golfers, but Hammond, for one, is hoping the stars are aligned in his favor this weekend. The PGA Tour lifer is just one shot off Steve Lowery's 10-under-par lead after posting a bogey-free 66 in yesterday's rain-delayed second round of the $3 million Kemper Insurance Open at TPC at Avenel.

"I've always been interested in the cosmos, and I had a telescope in my room since I was 10 years old," said Hammond, who has won twice on the PGA Tour during his 21-year professional career. "I have this dream where I'd have a place in Montana or somewhere, with this big roof that could open up. It would open and there'd be that big, beautiful sky to look at.

"[Winning this weekend] sure would be a good start in getting toward that house," said Hammond, who felt dizzy near the end of his round because of the 100-degree heat index.

Although it might seem Hammond would have trouble staying focused as he watched his name rise on the leader board all afternoon, he said it actually felt more like a friendly round at home instead of just his fifth round on tour all year.

"I think I'll be playing [today] with Chris DiMarco again, who I played with the first two days," said Hammond, who lives next to DiMarco in Heathrow, Fla. "My little girl [Brittany] was out there cheering me on the whole way, so I was just keeping my eye on her. She kept saying, `Way to go, Dad.' "

It won't be easy for Hammond though, with Lowery in front of him and four-time tour winner Justin Leonard tied with him. Leonard and Hammond are joined by DiMarco at 9-under. Paul Stankowski, Tom Scherrer and Tim Herron are three strokes back at 135.

Lowery, who stands a full-bodied 6 feet 2, 225 pounds, admitted after both his first and second rounds that the heat has made it difficult for him to focus on the course.

Coming down the stretch in Thursday's first round, he hit several loose iron shots and was forced to make back-to-back 10-footers to save par.

Yesterday, without the benefit of an early-morning tee time, Lowery endured the searing heat and humidity of the late afternoon from start to finish. A birdie putt from off the green on No. 1 started a run of four birdies in five holes, but he could manage only one more over his last 13 holes, leaving him with a 68.

"I think, in general, the difference between shooting 7-under and 3-under is being able to focus or concentrate," a sweat-soaked Lowery said after his round. "It was hard to concentrate after about eight holes out there because of the heat. I just noticed that I was getting really hot walking up and down the hills."

By contrast, Leonard started on the back nine at 7:42 a.m. and was off the course by noon, sitting in the clubhouse as the leader. The former British Open champion was convinced he wouldn't be leading at the end of the day, and he wasn't - but he's a lot closer than he might have imagined.

"I really wasn't thinking much about `I need to get to 13-under or 10-under,' " Leonard said. "Had I been playing as well as I did yesterday, I think I would have tried to stick a number out there to go at. But I didn't. I wasn't hitting it well enough today to really think that way."

Leonard's shot-making went from aggressive Thursday to much more defensive yesterday. Standing 201 yards from the front of the par-5 6th, he waited for the green to clear as though he were going to try and hit it in two. But then, after waffling between 3-iron, 1-iron, 3-wood and 3-iron again, Leonard called for his 7-iron and laid up. The indecision turned out beneficial, though, as Leonard spun his wedge tight and made his birdie.

"I was hoping nobody would ask this," Leonard said sheepishly when asked about the play. "It's a pretty difficult shot, [but] now that I'm making a couple more putts, I don't have to play quite as aggressively all the time. And I'm not making as many mistakes."

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