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

2/21/2003

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.

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 3½-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.''