Tolliver leads celebrity event
Tribune sports editor
STATELINE – Retired NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver is doing all he can to end the Rick Rhoden-Dan Quinn vice grip on the American Century Championship trophy.
Tolliver rolled in a 37-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole to snatch the lead from first-round leader Rhoden after 36 holes of the championship Saturday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
Buoyed by a pair of eagles on par-5 holes, the 1996 champion shot his second straight 28-point round, leaving him with a record 36-hole score of 56 – two points better than Rhoden. Rhoden and Quinn have combined to win the past four ACCs.
“Throw in a couple of eagles and that makes up for a lot, even a skankbait,” said Tolliver, referring to his shanked tee shot on the par-3 12th hole. “I was 3 under at the time, and I started thinking, ‘Yeah, you’re a pretty decent player, then I threw a little skankbait out there. I like to show them my skill every once in a while.”
If the final hole was a long-drive contest, Tolliver would have won it. He put himself in ideal position with a towering drive of 371 yards, leaving him a sand wedge to the 501-yard hole.
“I’ve been out there a lot of times with sand wedge or pitching wedge in my hands, but I finally kept the ball out of the right trees,” Tolliver said.
Tolliver’s wedge shot to the green wasn’t his best, leaving him a 37-foot uphill putt. Tolliver, however, judged the speed correctly as his ball made a three-quarter circle of the cup before diving into the hole for his second eagle of the day.
“You make anything that far it’s a pretty lucky stroke,” Tolliver said. “You can miss it as easy you make them from four feet, so I’ve been pretty fortunate with the putter for two days now.”
Tolliver also eagled the 536-yard par-5 fourth hole. He nailed a 222-yard 5-iron approach shot to within 15 feet of the cup and used the last rotation of his putt to find the bottom of the cup.
Tolliver had his best chance for eagle on the 546-yard 16th hole but he slid a 12-foot uphill putt just past the hole and settled for a tap-in birdie.
“I had (NBC analyst) Mark Rolfing standing right there looking at it, you’d think he could have told me, ‘Hey, man, split the left lip,'” Tolliver chided.
Rhoden followed up his record-tying 30-point first round with a 24-point effort.
“It was kind of a ho-hum day,” Rhoden said. “I only birdied one par-5 today and out here you have to birdie at least two or three of them.”
In the first two years of the Stableford scoring format, the mid-70s has been the magic number for winning. Quinn won with 74 points last year and Rhoden took the title with a record 75 points in 2003. But the contenders are aiming for a higher score today.
“That eagle threw a crimp into my thinking,” Rhoden said. “Now I’m thinking maybe 83 will win it.”
St. Louis Rams’ quarterback Chris Chandler, who is five points behind Tolliver, isn’t stressing his first final-round pairing in the championship.
“It’s not like pregame sitting in the locker room about to face, say, the old New Orleans Saints defense. It’s not anywhere near the same type of anxiety,” Chandler said.
All three contenders had different plans for spending the night before the final round.
Rhoden was going to eat sushi, while Chandler was intending to save some money.
“Two nights ago was punishment on the blackjack tables, so I’m gonna take my daughters down to the arcade and it’ll cost me two or three less zeroes,” Chandler said.
Meanwhile, Tolliver planned to spend the night with one of his favorite beverages.
“I’m going to drink some Grolsch beer and pound them down before my caddy makes me stop,” said Tolliver, who also took a two-point lead into the final round a year ago.
Quinn’s two-year title reign appears all but over as he trails by 15 points after a 23-point round left him at 41.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer is fourth, eight points out of first and 1992 Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien is nine points off the pace. Pierre Larouche, who won the last celebrity tournament near Pittsburgh, also shot his way into contention with a 27-point round, leaving him at 46.
“It’s a crazy game, you could get a double eagle, you could get a hole in one, you never know. That’s the way you got to play,” Larouche said.
Rypien provided the most excitement from the leaders over the picturesque finishing holes. While walking to the 17th green, Rypien passed a miniature football to a middle-aged man on the beach.
“Heck, he laid out (and caught it). You have to give him credit for that,” Rypien said.
He also reached into his bag for a golf ball and fired it to a woman on a nearby boat.
“I was just trying to loosen up,” Rypien said. “These people come out here and they don’t want to see us as anal as we are. I didn’t want to take away from Rick and Billy who were playing good, but I felt I was a little bit stiff and stagnant out there, so I needed a little something to pick me up.”