Senior rookie holds stroke lead over field

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Commonly, athletes are superstitious creatures. They’ll do anything to continue a winning streak and create good karma &045; wearing the same pairs of socks, listen to the same song before each game or have lucky mementos in their pockets.

So when Beverly Knapp showed up at Duncan Park Golf Course a half hour late for her scheduled tee time in the Natchez Ladies and Senior Men’s Championship Saturday, the mother of all bad omens was telling her to spin those tires and head back to Monterey, La.

She persevered, though, caught up with her group on the third tee and finished just one stroke back on three-time champion Mary Edwards’ 79.

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&uot;It’s tough showing up and seeing that everybody has left you,&uot; said Knapp, whose 80 is 10 strokes better than third place. &uot;I played my full round and then complete hole (Nos.) 1 and 2 after the 18th.&uot;

If Edwards can manage to hold on to her slim cushion today, she will become the first woman to capture the local title four times.

But after previous battles where she has prevailed, Knapp is confident that the exciting conclusion will come down to the wire.

&uot;Mary Edwards is a good opponent, but I’ve beaten her at Panola Woods before,&uot; she said. &uot;She’s an aggressive player, which is how I play too.&uot;

First-year competitor Frank Griffin, who moved to Natchez from Chicago four years ago, shot a 73 with birdies on two of his first five holes to claim a slight lead over two golfers close on his heels.

With his lone birdie coming at the par-5 No. 14, Prem Vidhana shot a 74 to position himself one back, while two-time Senior Champion Charles Yarbrough is three back of Griffin.

&uot;The thing that bothered me the most was three-putting on No. 18 from 15 feet,&uot; said Griffin, who closed with bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18. &uot;I wanted to pull in that 72.&uot;

Griffin’s round started very choppy with birdies following bogeys. A bogey at the par-4 No. 2 led to a birdie at the third.

After giving one back on the fourth, Griffin managed a birdie on the long par-5 fifth.

&uot;I hit my driver real good today. I got away with a few putts,&uot; Griffin said. &uot;My putting was still not as sharp as it has been. I didn’t feel as comfortable on a few putts as I usually do.&uot;

After picking up a birdie to start the back nine at No. 10, Griffin close with bogeys on three of his four final holes.

Griffin credited his solid round to the play of his group, which included Vidhana and 2001 champ Conner Robson, who had a hot front nine 34 before finishing at 78 for the round.

&uot;(Robson) had a real good thing going on the front nine. I think that inspired me in the way I played,&uot; Griffin said. &uot;I knew Prem was going to keep the ball in the middle of the fairway. We had a good chemistry and played off each other.&uot;

Despite, an early double bogey at No. 3 in which a hanging limb caught his second shot, Yarbrough bounced back to finish with a consistent 5-over 76.

Yarbrough, the defending champ of the event, said knowing his hoisted the trophy twice before took a lot of the pressure off of him.

&uot;I wasn’t real worried about winning again and just tried to play as best I could,&uot; he said. &uot;I wasn’t as nervous as I am normally. I hit a lot of good shots and some pretty bad ones, but I was able to finish OK.&uot;

It was not a pleasurable start for Yarbrough, who was battling a nasty hook with every one of his shots on the practice tee.

&uot;I fought it all day long, but I was able to bunt it around and finish with the same score from last year’s first round,&uot; Yarbrough said. &uot;I left three putts less than three inches from the hole. I didn’t get a whole lot of help from my irons either except for that wedge&uot; at No. 16, which led to his lone birdie of the round.

Yarbrough has never played a round with Griffin before, but he and Vidhana have and played well together, he said.

There are no mind games being played among the group, but Yarbrough believes the pressure will be on Griffin and Vidhana, both of who have never won the championship before.

&uot;I’m just going to try to think about that I’ve already won it before, and swing as best I can,&uot; Yarbrough said. &uot;If I can stay in my regular routine that usually helps when the pressure is on me.&uot;

Knapp, who collected the only birdie on the ladies’ side Saturday, said she would not miss her tee time today.

Knapp was able to put together a 9-over round together despite logging a pair of double bogeys on her scorecard.

&uot;I was driving the ball pretty poorly out there, but my approach shots and my putts were very good,&uot; she said. &uot;I missed a lot of putts because I couldn’t read the greens since they’re still a little scuffed up.&uot;