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Micheel has look of Curtis with 68

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — ROCHESTER, N.Y. - A pair of uncanny impersonations were performed yesterday on the stage that was set for the second round of the 85th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.

The first was by the course itself, which seemed suitable for a U.S. Open given the way some of the world's best players flailed and failed on the tight fairways, heavy rough and slick greens. The other was executed to near perfection by Shaun Micheel, who is trying to do here what Ben Curtis did last month in the British Open.

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While Curtis didn't take the lead until the final round at Royal St. George's, Micheel emerged early last night from a pack of contenders. The 34-year-old Floridian birdied the last two holes to grab a two-stroke lead over reigning Masters champion Mike Weir and Billy Andrade.

Rod Pampling of Australia, who shared the opening-round lead with Phil Mickelson, is three strokes behind.

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"Surely, I'd love to add my name to the long list of names that are on that Wanamaker Trophy, but that's obviously getting a little bit ahead of myself," said Micheel, who is at 3-under-par 137 after shooting a 2-under 68.

"I haven't really proven myself as a tour winner yet. I'm still working on a lot of things, and what's held me back, I don't know.

"It will be an unbelievable experience to kind of go and play the next two days in the same way I've played these first two."

Playing in a major championship for only the third time as a pro, Micheel can draw inspiration from Curtis, who went from being a 26-year-old virtual unknown ranked 396th in the world to the winner of the fabled claret jug by beating the likes of Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn - not to mention Tiger Woods - down the stretch in Sandwich, England.

"I actually watched that," said Micheel, who is ranked 169th in the world. "I missed the cut at the B.C. Open so I was home with my wife watching.

"I knew he was going to win. I could see that the way he was hitting the fairways. That's was obviously the key to that event. Someone is going to have to win. I feel like I've played in enough golf tournaments now as a pro and I feel like maybe it's time to do something."

Curtis will have the opportunity to watch Micheel from the same vantage point, having missed the cut yesterday after following up an opening-round 75 with a 76. Others missing the cut, which was at 8-over 148, included Sergio Garcia, Davis Love and Bjorn, all of whom were at 149. It was the second-highest cut for a major championship at Oak Hill.

As Curtis experienced during the final round of the British Open, Micheel will be chased by some of the world's top players. Aside from Weir, others in contention are three-time major champion Ernie Els of South Africa and Mickelson, who are in a group of seven at 1-over-par 141.

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Former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk is in a group of six at 2-over 142 that includes Singh, who won this tournament in 1998.

"I don't see why tomorrow will be any different," said Micheel. "I probably know it will be, but I'm a smart enough player to know that if I can hit some middies of the greens and position my ball, keep my ball below the hole, I can make some putts. There's no reason why I can't have another good day tomorrow and even Sunday."

It has been a while since Andrade, 39, has been in the hunt at a major. A four-time winner who once won back-to-back events in 1991, including the Kemper Open, Andrade's best finish in a major is a tie for sixth in the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. His last victory was three years ago in the Invensys Classic in Las Vegas. He was the second alternate into the field this week.

"I wasn't in the tournament and now I'm in it and I might as well try to make the best of the situation," said Andrade. "I like my chances after 36 holes. When I get in this position, I kind of thrive on it. I'm going to go for it. I've got nothing to lose. I'm looking forward to the challenge this week."

Andrade is also using Curtis as a role model.

"As Ben Curtis proved at the British Open, anything's possible," said Andrade.

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That's what Woods is hoping. The three-time PGA champion and eight-time major champion is nine strokes behind after rounds of 4-over-par 74 and 2-over 72, but believes that this year's tournament will play out much the way most U.S. Opens do - with the champion shooting around par.

Woods will have to hit the ball a little straighter and make a bunch of putts if he wants to give himself a chance.

Asked if he thinks the course will stay as difficult today, Woods said, 'No, it will be tougher, which is fine.' "

Until yesterday, the most noteworthy accomplishment on Micheel's resume came in 1993, when he and another mini-tour player saved an elderly couple who had run their car off an embankment and into a river in New Bern, N.C. The two golfers climbed down some 30 feet and got the two out of the car, bringing them to safety.

"I never heard from them after that," said Micheel. "I was playing really well in that tournament, but I lost the tournament because I kept hitting the ball in the water the last two holes. It was kind of ironic. I think about that a lot. It was something I think anyone would do if put in that position. It was something that I think about quite a lot."

Leaderboard

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The leader ...

Shaun Micheel 69-68--137

... and selected followers

Billy Andrade 67-72--139

Mike Weir 68-71--139

Rod Pampling 66-74--140

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Ernie Els 71-70--141

Phil Mickelson 66-75--141

Fred Funk 69-73--142

Lee Janzen 68-74--142

Vijay Singh 69-73--142

Tiger Woods 74-72--146

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Complete scores. [Page 7c]


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