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Simpson takes step on comeback road


POTOMAC -- There are days, like yesterday, when Tim Simpson can whack a wedge toward the flag, have it land 10 feet past and the ball will back up into the hole for an eagle. And then there are the others.

"In my position," said Simpson, who finished in a five-way tie for second after the first round of the Kemper Open at Avenel, "everything is challenging at this point, even walking up to the clubhouse. I hope I don't trip. But I can feel it coming back."

It was a couple of years ago when Simpson, after finishing eighth on the money list two years in a row and climbing to more than $3 million in career earnings, came down with Lyme disease. "The biggest problem," he recalls, "is I was mis-diagnosed for so long."

Needless to say, it was a frightening experience, one that probably isn't completely licked yet. "I can have some days when I feel as good as I ever did. But, then, the very next day I get out of bed feeling as if I just played 36 holes."

Scheduled into 14 tournaments so far this year, Tim missed the cut on five occasions, had to withdraw from one and wasn't even able to start another. He started the week with just one top-25 finish.

It was the summer of 1991 when Simpson fell victim to the tick-induced disease that attacks the heart, brain and nervous system. "There were days when I couldn't pick up a toothbrush. I was completely crippled up," he says. All along he felt he had Lyme but, as he points out, "the test for it is only 30 percent accurate, so you could take the test 50 times and might never show positive."

Finally, Tim was put on the proper heavy antibiotic (intravenous and injection) and, he says, "I can feel the strength coming back every day. I'm feeling better and playing better golf, but I guess you can never be sure you've beaten it."

But even then, there are the usual perils and pitfalls of playing this extremely hazardous game of golf. "I'm almost embarrassed to tell you what happened to me a while back: I was getting ready to putt and as I stepped back to line the ball up, I fell into a sand trap, six feet flat on my back. It obviously jarred my spine."

In fact, the back bothered Tim sufficiently Wednesday night that he thought about bagging the Kemper altogether. "I was up at 5 oclock this morning trying to loosen it up," he said. The fact it was cold and rainy when he started out before 8 a.m. yesterday didn't help.

"It was the kind of day where you go out looking to just stick with par," he said. He did for four holes, then dropped birdie putts at Nos. 5, 6 and 10. He was 4-under when he spun a eagle in at No. 13 and headed into the last two holes at 6-under-par.

He finiished bogey-bogey, "but I wasn't choking," Tim insists.

"After playing so incredibly badly last year, all I'm looking to do is come back. It's funny, I can be fine right now and, 30 minutes from now, won't be able to stand up. This thing's much nastier than a germ, but I'm going to kill it before it kills me."

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