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With nowhere to go, Piniella takes it easy

For most of Lou Piniella's life, late February has meant full-squad workouts in preparation for another baseball season. This year, late February means a couple of rounds at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

Piniella, who left as Devil Rays manager in 2005 after three seasons, is paired with Champions Tour pro Jim Thorpe. They had a team score of 3-under 68 Friday.

While Piniella, 62, is still competitive, he says he doesn't miss being around a baseball field.

"I needed the year off," he said. "I think it's going to do me a world of good. I was tired after three years over there. That losing gets to you. People don't realize it until you go through it. Especially when you're not used to it."

Piniella went 200-283 with the Rays. He has played or coached for a major-league team for nearly 40 years.

Now he has an entire summer to fill. He spends his time in Tampa and St. Pete Beach, mostly doing what he hasn't had time for in the past.

"Playing a little golf, doing a little fishing," he said. "I'm able to spend time with the family. I've been watching the grandchildren. I bought a bicycle. I've got a personal trainer. I feel as strong as a bull, and I still can't hit a golf ball."

Piniella said he also will keep an eye on the Devil Rays.

"I'd like to see them do well," Piniella said. "We got something going in the second half of (last)season. Hopefully, they can follow that."

ANSWERING THE CALL: When Jim Chancey woke up Friday in his Altamonte Springs home, he planned to have a casual morning before his 1 p.m. golf lesson.

But when he received a phone call at about 10 from a tournament official informing him he was the next alternate, he jumped in his car and took off.

Nearly an hour later, Chancey was told John Mahaffey withdrew because of back problems. Despite being the 11th alternate, Chancey was in because none of the others were closer to Lutz.

He arrived at 12:15, 15 minutes before his tee time. He hit about 10 balls on the driving range and a few putts on the practice green and headed to the 10th tee.

A little more than four hours later, he finished at 2-over 73.

"I (drove) pretty fast, but I didn't run into anybody on the way here," Chancey said. "I played all right for not really practicing. I'd never even played the golf course before."

Peter Jacobsen withdrew with a sore knee and was replaced by James Mason, who shot 6-over 77.

GOOD START, BAD FINISH: Defending champion Hale Irwin shot 69 and said everything went well except his putting.

"I played as well on the front nine as I've played in many, many years," Irwin said. "I should have gotten more than 3 under par out of it. Then I got frustrated on the second nine and shot 1 over. This was one of those rounds that could have been really, really low, but I couldn't make any putts."

DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: Actors Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Costner are participating, and both are aware they are the "am" part of the team.

"This is why I have a day job," said Wahlberg, a 7-handicap who shot a net score of 1 under. After a good practice round Thursday, "I wanted to quit my day job. Today, I'm happy I have a day job."

Wahlberg and teammate Gary Koch shot 2-under 69.

Costner and teammate Fuzzy Zoeller shot 63. Costner said he played well, which is a little out of character.

"I was shocked at the way I was playing," Costner said. "That's probably not the way you should play the game, by being shocked if you play well.

"But I was just trying to keep everything going in the same direction or whatever the proper golf cliche is."

TEAM LEADERS: Bruce Lietzke /Bing Kearney, Loren Roberts/Pat Waters, John Jacobs/Ron Campbelland Tom Jenkins/Jeff Yarmuth were tied at 10-under 61.

- RODNEY PAGE, Times staff writer

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