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Senden shoots into Bob Hope lead

John Senden, an Australian who considered not coming to America to qualify for the PGA Tour after the Sept. 11 attacks, eagled his final hole Thursday for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead in the Bob Hope Classic.

Senden, a 30-year-old from Brisbane who has played the European tour the past four years, was at 15-under 129 after the second of five rounds.

Brandel Chamblee had a 67 and was one stroke behind.

Phil Mickelson, playing for the first time in five months, made only one birdie on the par 5s and closed with a bogey after hitting into the trees. He had a 67 and was two strokes back, along with 1988 Hope winner Jay Haas (68).

Charles Howell III, the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year last season, had a 67 for 132.

Although playing in America was always Senden’s goal, he had concerns about flying after Sept. 11 and almost didn’t come. He made it through all three stage of the PGA Tour qualifying school, tying for fifth in the final stage to earn his card.

“There were a lot of guys, especially from Australia, who pulled out because of that reason,” Senden said. “I sort of said to myself, ‘You cannot hold yourself back because of that sort of incident.’

“You do what you do. You travel for your living and you’ve got to fly to get to these places. So my wife, Jackie, and I said we might as well go together. If something is going to happen, it might as well be together.”

Senden missed the cut last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, his PGA Tour debut. He took the 36-hole lead at the Hope with a spectacular finish, blasting out of a bunker and into the cup for an eagle on No. 18 at Indian Wells Country Club.

He grinned and raised his arms to acknowledge the applause from the gallery.

“I just splashed it out and it dropped right in the middle,” he said. “I was a happy man.”

Senden has not finished higher than 69th on the European tour money list. “My ball-striking is probably the best part of my game,” he said, explaining that that didn’t always translate into good scores during his four years in Europe. “But over the last 12 or 18 months, I’ve really improved my putting, and that’s given me a better consistency and better scoring.”

He made putts from 12 feet (3.6 meters)and 10 feet (3 meters) on his way to five birdies during the second round of the Hope.

Chamblee was pleased with his first two days at the Hope, which is played over four different courses.

“Obviously I’m pretty happy with where I am,” he said. “Who knows what the scores are going to be here the next couple of days, 30 unders?

“These golf course are playing easy because they’re in such good shape. There’s not a blade of grass out of place. The greens are putting like pool tables. If you get a ball on line, there’s nothing to deflect it. So there’s nobody to blame it on but yourself.”

Mickelson, who took the five-month break to spend with his family, was mostly pleased with his second round.

“I didn’t score as well as I could have due to my having a birdie on only one of the par 5s,” he said.

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