Golf fans are going to have to pay attention to Corey Pavin now. His pal Paul Azinger is gone.
Pavin, gunning for his second win this season, shot a 7-under-par 65 in the second round of the Buick Open on Saturday. That was good for 131 and a commanding four-shot lead over first-round leader Fred Funk.Still, for the second day in a row, Pavin wasn't even the most popular player in his threesome.
That honor went to Azinger, making his first start since being diagnosed with cancer last November.
Azinger continued his return with a nifty 70 for a total of 146. He missed the cut, but it was clear Azinger's game was coming back after a nine-month battle with illness.
And just in time. Azinger will defend his PGA Championship title starting Thursday at Tulsa, Okla.
"It's fun to be around Paul," Pavin said. "He played a lot better today. Today was easier for him. The thing that struck me was his improvement from yesterday to today."
Azinger, followed hole to hole by an adoring army of cheering fans, might have scored even better. He just couldn't get the feel for his putter.
But his iron play improved markedly. He missed only four greens during the second round, reeling off consecutive birdies at Nos. 7, 8 and 9 to turn at 2-under 34.
"It was a good feeling to whip a few in there," Azinger said. "I could have had four birdies in a row, but I just couldn't putt."
Funk shot 70 for 135. Davis Love III was at 136 after rounds of 69 and 67, tied with Duffy Waldorf, who also shot 67 in the second round. Nick Faldo, Fred Couples, Tom Kite and Steve Pate were at 137.
Pavin, winner of 11 PGA Tour events including the Los Angeles Open in February, had a bogey-free first round and rattled off seven more birdies in the second round before finally making a bogey at No. 15, a 457-yard par-4.
But that was because he found a greenside bunker. It certainly wasn't because of his putter. Pavin, who ranks eighth among the tour's putting leaders, sank birdie putts of 40, 18, 4, 12, 15, 12, 30 and 1 feet.
"I never felt comfortable with any putt in the 4-foot range," Azinger said. "But, for crying out loud, I never saw Corey waver on anything outside of 50 feet. He's just a fearless putter."
Ben Crenshaw, who filled out the threesome, discovered perhaps the only way to check Pavin. Crenshaw eagled the 335-yard 12th, which Pavin went on to birdie.
"Well, I lost that hole," Pavin quipped as they headed for the next tee.
The 7,105-yard course was still wet from nearly a week of rain which delayed the start for one day. As a result, players were still allowed to remove mud from their golf ball, as long as it was in their own fairway.
That was a distinct advantage to the 150-pound Pavin, not noted as one of the tour's longer drivers.
"The ball isn't rolling anywhere," the playful Pavin said. "The most important thing is to hit fairways when you play lift, clean and cheat."
Those who qualified will the tournament with 36 holes on Sunday. The winner will pocket $198,000 of the $1.1 million purse.
"Playing 36, I'll try to conserve my energy as much as possible," Pavin said. "I don't want to change anything."
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In Stratton Mountain, Vt., Carolyn Hill, whose best finish was a second place 13 years ago, shot a career-best 65 to take a two-shot in the McCall's LPGA Classic.
Her 10-under-par 206 put her in front entering a final round for the first time since 1981.
Nancy Ramsbottom, one shot out of the lead starting the day, fell another stroke back but retained second place with a 2-under-par 70 for 208.
Betsy King, the leader after the first two days, shot a 72 and dropped back into a tie at 209 with Joan Pitcock, who had a 68.
Page Dunlap, who held the lead for much of the front nine after reaching 8-under, lost two strokes coming home and finished at 71, leaving her alone at 210.
King, needing one victory to become the 14th player in the LPGA Hall of Fame, is the only player in the top five with a tour victory. She has 29.
In contrast, Hill managed seconds in 1980, her first year on the tour, and in 1981. Her best finish this year is 22nd and she she ranks 122nd on the money list with $16,782. She didn't even play the last two weeks.