LUTZ — Mark Wiebe has spent most of his professional career trying to get to the top of leaderboards. He has grinded on the PGA Tour since 1983, winning only twice, the last in 1986.
So it's hard to blame Wiebe, 50, for taking a little pride in Saturday's second round at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. For the second straight day, he tore up TPC of Tampa Bay. He bested Friday's round by one with 6-under 65, good enough for 11 under and the tournament lead with today's final round left to play.
His 131 tied the tournament record for lowest two-round total, set by Bruce Fleisher in 2000 and 2002. It also put him ahead of his idol, Tom Watson, as well as Scott Hoch, by three shots. Watson entered Saturday with a three-stroke lead and shot par 71.
Mike Reid and Tom Jenkins were five shots back. Mike Hulbert was six back at 5 under.
"I didn't see a leaderboard until the ninth green,'' Wiebe said, referring to his last hole. "It was one of those electronic ones, and I saw I was leading. I thought, all right, that's cool. At the end, if you're No. 1, it's nice to see who you beat, for sure."
Wiebe (pronounced We-bee) recorded seven birdies and a lone bogey to tie Nick Price for the lowest round of the day. Wiebe bogeyed the 11th hole (his second) then birdied three of the next seven to make the turn at 8 under. He finished with a flourish, birdieing two of the last three.
"You don't know how many birdies you're going to have when you tee off," Wiebe said. "So seven birdies is always nice. I ended with a birdie, so my beer will taste a little better when I have it tonight."
Things didn't go as well for Watson. After catching fire on the front nine (his second nine) Friday and shooting 63, he cooled considerably Saturday. He started with 13 straight pars before finally getting birdie at 14 then 16. But double bogey on the par-3 17th, which included a tee shot in the water, negated his gain.
"My game is kind of like a thermos," Watson, 58, said. "It's hot sometimes and it's cold sometimes, but how does it know? I don't know. I played well from tee to green. I putted for birdie on 17 holes. But it was cold today, whereas it was hot yesterday."
Hoch, who has won twice this season, in Boca Raton and Naples, quietly put together another 4-under 67. His round didn't get going until the back nine, when he birdied four of his last six, including the par-3 17th and par-4 18th, the hardest holes on the course.
"I was resigned to the fact that it wasn't going to be that good of a day," Hoch, 52, said. "I was just trying to get one birdie in there, and luckily I made three out of four."
While Wiebe does enjoy the largest second-round lead in the tournament since Fleisher had a five shot lead in 2000, recent history is not in his favor. Five of the last six champions have come from behind, including Watson last year.
If Wiebe continues to play as he has the past two days, there may be no catching him. He knows what it's like to win. He captured the Cap Cana Championship two weeks ago in the Dominican Republic. He is trying to join Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners on the Champions Tour this season.
He said he is right where he wants to be:
"You always want to have a chance to win on Sunday."
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8810.