McCullough's 67 leads by one on a windy Florida day

Updated: February 21, 2003, 10:46 PM ET
Associated Press

LUTZ, Fla. -- Nine-year Champions Tour player Mike McCullough shot a 4-under-par 67 Friday to take a one-shot lead in the Verizon Classic.

Mike McCullough
Mike McCullough has two tournament titles since rebuilding his swing.

His round at the TPC of Tampa Bay was the latest example of success achieved through long and hard work.

Five years ago, McCullough, who made 270 cuts in 405 PGA Tour starts but never won, took on the challenge of completely rebuilding his swing.

Now, with two career victories on his resume, he's shooting for another, going into the second round Saturday one shot in front of Mark McCumber, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite and Bruce Fleisher.

Two shots back at 69 are Andy North, Mike Hill, Graham Marsh, David Graham and Rocky Thompson.

''I was motivated because I didn't think I could get any better and I was losing interest and I just didn't think I could take it to another level,'' McCullough said of his rebuilding effort. ''There were real tears. I had everything to lose. ... It was an amateur golf swing on a professional level.

''It has not been easy. Just changing your grip, it took me three years. It didn't take me three years to make the grip change. It took me three years to make the grip change that allowed all the other body parts not to go where they wanted. That was the hard part.''

On a sunny day plagued only by swirling winds, McCullough made it look easy. He toured the 6,783-yard, par-71 course with six birdies and two bogeys.

After bogeying the par-3 17th hole to drop into a five-way tie for the lead, he responded with a 40-foot putt for birdie and the lead on the 18th.

McCumber missed a chance to share the lead when his 3-foot putt for par on the 17th made a 360-degree turn and spun out. It was his only bogey on a day that started with a 20-foot chip-in for birdie on the first hole.

''It was a solid start,'' McCumber said. ''I'm really happy.

''I hit a lot of greens. I drove the ball exceptionally well. I just played a very solid round of golf, tee to green.''

The hardest part of the for Irwin, the player of the year last season, was the swirling wind.

''Early in the day, we had pretty much a consistent wind from a consistent direction,'' he said. ''Then it started swinging around. If we had a weather vain with a chicken on top, I think that chicken would have been moving all around the barn yard.''


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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