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Making a splash

Cliff Kresge, best known for a fall into the water at Q-school, takes the lead after the first round.

For a claim to fame, it's not much. Certainly not like, say, winning a major championship. Or a PGA Tour event. Or even being a consistent contender.

But for Cliff Kresge, falling off a green and into the water several years ago will have to do.

Kresge feigned no knowledge of the incident when it was brought up Thursday after his 6-under 65 on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook was good for the first-round lead at the PODS Championship.

He knows there's no escaping it.

During the final round of the 2000 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, Kresge was lining up a putt on the ninth green when he backed into the water. During any other round, a golfer would sulk back to the clubhouse and hide. But not when a career is at stake.

So Kresge climbed out of the pond, missed his par putt, then finished the round wearing a rain suit and a soaked shirt. And he earned his way onto the PGA Tour for the first time.

"Every time I do anything good, somebody is going to bring it up," Kresge said. "If that thing did anything, it hardened me a lot. I just was determined to not let the fact that I fell in the water keep me from getting my card. For once in my life, I really didn't get in my way. I stepped on the gas and played the last nine holes like you are supposed to.

"I wish I would have had more of that mind (Thursday). I should have jumped in the water on that 12th hole back there."

Yes, for a time Thursday, Kresge, 38, was on his way to making a name for himself. With two eagles, he was 8 under through 11 holes, five shots clear of everyone on the leaderboard.

With a couple more birdies he could have been flirting with golf's Holy Grail, 59. But Kresge didn't make another birdie, added bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes and settled for a two-shot lead over Daniel Chopra, Arron Oberholser, Anthony Kim and Doug LaBelle.

"A little bittersweet," said Kresge, who lives in Apopka and went to Central Florida. "I'd much rather be 8 under than 6 under, but 6 under is a heck of a score out here, so I'll take it. It's a great round. But I was probably putting the brakes on a little bit coming in, maybe playing a little too protective instead of just staying aggressive. I paid the price."

Playing the tournament for the first time in March as part of the Florida Swing, the 144-player field was treated to a near-perfect day, with warm temperatures and nary a breeze. That led to 43 subpar scores.

But that didn't mean the course was easy.

"It played a lot longer than it ever has," said Jesper Parnevik, one of seven tied for third at 68. "It was incredible. We hit shots into greens that you would never dream about hitting in the fall. ... The ball is not rolling as much in the fairways. In the fall we can get it pretty firm. (But) even though the course is playing longer, the greens seem to be pretty firm and fast like they are in the fall. That's very similar.

"It's a great course. Everybody loves coming here and everybody loves the golf course. It's probably one of the best we play all year, I would say."

Parnevik tied for sixth in October and was tied for second in 2002. He was joined at 68 by Pat Perez, Heath Slocum, Camilo Villegas, Hunter Mahan, Joey Sindelar and Matt Kuchar.

Kresge's round got going when he holed a 5-iron from 189 yards at the 465-yard sixth hole, just the second eagle at the hole in tournament history. That followed kick-in birdies at Nos. 3 and 5. He added another close birdie putt at 10 and holed a 10-footer for his second eagle at No. 11, where he hit a 3-wood approach to the green.

"It was a dream for 11 holes," he said.

Kresge's career, however, has been filled with ups and downs. He turned pro in 1991 but has never finished higher than a tie for third in a PGA Tour event. In all that time, he has been on the tour just four years, bouncing back to minitours and the Nationwide Tour. His last year on the PGA Tour was in 2004, when he finished 175th on the money list. Until Thursday, he had never led after any round of any tour event - and this is his 114th.

On the Nationwide Tour in 2006, he had eight top 10s, including a victory, to finish third on the money list and earn a promotion to the PGA Tour.

He has made six cuts in six 2007 starts, including a tie for sixth at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

Kresge would love to improve on that this weekend - and be known for something other than taking a bath on a golf course.

Bob Harig can be reached at (727) 893-8806 or harig@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

PODS leaderboard

Cliff Kresge 65

Daniel Chopra 67

Arron Oberholser 67

Anthony Kim 67

Doug LaBelle 67

Notables

Jesper Parnevik 68

Mark Wilson 69

K.J. Choi 69

Sergio Garcia 70

Vijay Singh 70

John Daly 74

John Huston 77

Today-Sunday, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor. Today on TV: 3-6 p.m. Golf Channel. Weather: Mostly sunny, high 81.

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