Coceres charges at Booz Allen; Curtis keeps lead

Updated: June 23, 2006, 8:02 PM ET
Associated Press

POTOMAC, Md. -- Ben Curtis wore the burgundy and gold of the Washington Redskins. Jose Coceres wore the blue and white of Argentina's soccer team.

The American football fan took the lead over the World Cup football fan Friday when Curtis made a 5-foot birdie putt on his final hole, giving him a one-stroke edge over the only Argentine on the PGA Tour at the midway point of the Booz Allen Classic.

Curtis followed his first-round 62 with a 65 at the TPC at Avenel, putting him at 15 under par and setting a tournament record for best score after 36 holes. The 2003 British Open champion saved par from greenside traps on back-to-back holes before his final birdie.

"I got off to a little shaky start. I didn't feel real comfortable with the swing at the beginning," Curtis said. "I hit one out of bounds at 13, but after that, I got the putter going."

Curtis and Coceres will play together in the final group Saturday, and Coceres will no doubt be thankful that threatening weather has prompted officials to send the leaders out in the morning. Barring a storm delay, Coceres should finish in time to watch Argentina play Mexico for a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.

"Big moment," said Coceres, whose blue-and-white horizontal stripes on his golf shirt were just enough to evoke thoughts of the famous blue-and-white vertical stripes on Argentina's soccer uniforms. "That is my team, my country."

Curtis' attire was more about money. He has a deal with a sponsor that requires him to wear the colors and logos of the local NFL teams at every tournament. He wasn't thrilled about wearing Baltimore Ravens purple on Thursday because he's a Cleveland Browns fan from Ohio, so the Redskins colors were a better fit all around.

"I heard a few comments yesterday, 'Where's the Redskins?' and all that good stuff," said Curtis, who plans to wear Redskins gear again Saturday and Sunday. "And it's easier to wear for me as well."

Coceres shot a second consecutive 64 as he seeks his first PGA Tour victory in five years. Jeff Gove was four shots off the lead, with John Huston and Brett Quigley another stroke behind as low scores continue to dominate on a course that looks relatively easy following last week's U.S. Open.

"At the U.S. Open, a guy wins a tournament at 5 over par," said Quigley, whose 63 was the best round of the day. "And to be honest, the greens were terrible. When we get good greens, it's like going from putting out of the rough last week to putting on a marble tile. Perfect. The greens are that good."

Coceres doesn't come close to crushing the ball off the tee but he didn't miss a single fairway Friday and made all 16 of his putts from less than 10 feet.

"If Jose continues on that pace, it's pretty hard to catch him," Gove said.

Unless he gets distracted by the World Cup. After all, soccer nearly cost Coceres his golf career four years ago, when he broke his arm playing in a pickup game in Argentina.

"I go in too strong," said Coceres, going back and forth from English to Spanish with the help of two interpreters. "I just collided with another player."

It took months to recover, and the injury cost him some 40 yards off his tee shot. The promising career that included two PGA Tour victories in 2001 was fading, and he dropped to 182 on the money list last year.

This year, Coceres has split time between the United States and Argentina. This is only his fourth tournament of the year, and he got in only because so many other players dropped out. He's been frustrated over his inability to secure a single sponsor's exemption, and he spoke enthusiastically of merely finishing in the top 10 this week so that he can automatically qualify for next week's Buick Championship.

Of course, he could also go ahead and win, which would secure his place on the tour for another 2½ years. It would also give more resources to support his large family and community back home. Three months ago, for example, he raised money for a family whose house had burned down.

How? With soccer, of course.

"I organized a charity soccer event," he said. "We brought in professional soccer players, and we helped rebuild the house."

Divots
Tom Kite failed in his bid to move back into a tie with Jay Haas for most career cuts made on the PGA Tour. Playing with a sponsor's exemption in his first tour event of the year, the 56-year-old Kite shot rounds of 75 and 74 to miss the cut by nine strokes. Haas overtook Kite by making the cut at the U.S. Open last week. Haas has made 591 career cuts; Kite has 590. ... Padraig Harrington, the highest ranked golfer in the field, followed Thursday's 70 with a 65, but he trailed the leader by eight strokes.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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