POTOMAC -- Scott McCarron doesn't need an escort to protect him from an adoring mob on his way from the parking lot to the clubhouse, but at least he's enjoying the perks of being a winner on the PGA Tour.
Since McCarron won in New Orleans in March, he gets a courtesy car. After his top 10 finish at the Masters, fewer fans confuse him with a jockey and call him Chris. Maybe nicest of all for the ego, he has been included in some featured tee times to start tournaments.
"I'm playing with tournament winners on Thursday and Friday," McCarron said of his playing partners for the first two rounds of the Kemper Open. "Curtis Strange has won 17 tournaments. Vijay Singh's got a couple of wins."
McCarron fired his second straight 66 to move to 10-under and take sole leadership at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel yesterday, but when network television joins the third round of the Kemper Open today, he won't be paired with a past U.S. Open champion or an international star.
Instead, he'll go around with another former qualifying school refugee, Jay Williamson, who followed his opening 66 with a 67, and is one stroke back at 9-under.
Gil Morgan, four months shy of his 50th birthday, posted a 65, and is 7-under with Larry Mize (67). David Toms matched Morgan with the best score of the first two rounds to jump to 6-under, but the top names there are John Daly (67) and Mark O'Meara (69). Payne Stewart (67) and Scott Hoch (68) are among the crowd at 5-under.
McCarron and Williamson are strangers to the casual fan, but not to each other. They began to lean on each other two years ago, when both were wandering the wilderness of the Hooters Tour and needed Q school to earn berths on the 1995 PGA Tour.
"Even when you're winning on the mini-tours, you're struggling," McCarron said. "The money's not very good. Jay and I went through that together and became very good friends. We didn't hang out together until we got on the [PGA] Tour, but we celebrated after we got through tour [qualifying] school together."
McCarron and his wife, Jennifer, were frequent dinner companions for Williamson and his fiancee, Marnie. The foursome was nearly broken up at the end of last year, however, when Williamson had to return to Q school. He was bolstered by a talk with McCarron, who avoided that wringer by grabbing one of the last three exemptions on the 1995 earnings list.
"Scott is one of the most positive individuals I've been exposed too," Williamson said. "Golf can be a very negative game, but Scott said, 'Go out there, I know you can do it.' He's got the proper mind-set, and I firmly believe that's the reason he's where is."
The two couldn't have more diverse golf upbringings.
McCarron's father put a sawed-off iron in his hand when he was 3 years old. He was a junior star and helped UCLA win an NCAA title in 1988, but struggles with his putter led him to withdraw from competition and join his father's golf apparel business.
Golf wasn't even Williamson's secondary athletic interest at Division III Trinity (Conn.) College. He played baseball and ice hockey there, and, no, he hasn't seen "Happy Gilmour," the cinema spoof about a hockey player who takes his slap shot-inspired distance off the tee into pro golf.
Williamson and McCarron, who's off to the second-best two-day start in Kemper Open history behind Davis Love III's 11-under last year, spent yesterday chasing each other.
Williamson, playing five groups after McCarron, birdied five of the first eight holes to get to 10-under.
McCarron eagled the par-5 No. 6, but was three strokes behind Williamson before he birdied four of the last eight holes. The last came on No. 17, the par-3 over a pond where he got wet and needed to hole his drop just to get par in the first round.
"I was watching Jay [on the leader board], saying, 'I'm going to catch him,' " said McCarron, who is attempting to join Phil Mickelson, Mark Brooks and O'Meara as multiple winners this year.
It's all virgin territory to Williamson, whose best finish on the Tour is a tie for fourth at the Ideon Classic in Sutton, Mass. last year, where the field wasn't exactly stellar since it was a week after the British Open.
Billy Andrade, who shared the first-round lead with McCarron and Williamson, had a 1-over 72 to fall to 4-under.
One of the biggest charges up the leader board came from Daly, who started on No. 10 and was even through 13 holes. He birdied four of his last five, however, to record his best round at the Kemper Open in five years. Daly used his new 0-iron seven times in the first two rounds.
"I kept hitting fairways and giving myself a chance," said Daly, whose only top 10 finish over the last two seasons came when he won the British Open last July.
The leader . . .
Scott McCarron -- 66-66-132
. . . and selected followers
Jay Williamson -- 66-67-133
Gil Morgan -- 70-65-135
Larry Mize -- 68-67-135
Mark O'Meara -- 67-69-136
John Daly -- 69-67-136
Complete scores. 15C
Pub Date: 5/25/96