TPC's winds no obstacle as Azinger leads by 1


PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- Paul Azinger, looking for the most important victory of his career, successfully negotiated high winds to take a one-stroke lead yesterday at the halfway mark of The Players Championship.

Azinger shot a 4-under-par 68 for a two-round total of 9-under-par 135. One stroke back at 136 are Fuzzy Zoeller and Steve Elkington, with Ian Baker-Finch at 138.

Wind gusts that reached 45 miles per hour in the late afternoon brought scores up from the placid first round, when 36 players broke 70. The first-round leader, Bob Tway, followed his 65 with 77.

"I was just scratching and clawing for all I was worth," said Azinger, who played yesterday morning. "This is the hardest I've seen it blow here. I don't know how many strokes it's worth, but I think our side of the field may have gotten a little bit of a break."

Several of golf's more prominent players barely survived the 36-hole cut of one-over-par 145. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros shot consecutive 72s to stand at 144, while Greg Norman came back with 70. Among those missing the cut were Jose Maria Olazabal; the defending champion, Jodie Mudd, and the former champion, Sandy Lyle.

Azinger, 31, who earlier in the year achieved his seventh career victory at the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, has performed at a high level all year.

He finished tied for second at the Honda Classic, and probably would have had another high finish at Doral had he not been

disqualified under unusual circumstances after a second-round 65.

A television viewer called officials to say he saw that Azinger had improperly moved stones with his left foot after taking his stance in a water hazard during his first round.

When PGA Tour officials concurred that Azinger had broken a rule, he was disqualified for signing an incorrect score card for his first round.

Azinger has sought to put the disappointment of that incident behind him. After his round yesterday, he preferred talking about how he has grown to like the Players Championship Stadium Course.

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