Imagine how Rocco Mediate felt the first time he met Arnold Palmer on a golf course. He was 19 when friends secretly arranged a golf game at Latrobe, and the kid was so overcome by seeing the King he nearly turned and ran.
Imagine how he would feel 25 years later to see Palmer waiting for him tomorrow afternoon on the 18th hole at Bay Hill.
"It would be pretty interesting to see if I could even talk," said Mediate, a guy who rarely shuts up.
Mediate chatted away through wind and rain yesterday, making birdie on two of the toughest holes during his 5-under-par 65 for a three-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.
Tiger Woods was lucky to still be in the mix. Tied for the lead after a 64 in the first round, Woods hooked one tee shot into the water and hit plenty of others into the rough. He closed with four tough pars for a 73, leaving him six shots behind.
Asked for any positives to take out of a bad day, Woods replied, "I broke 80. It was pathetic. At least I'm still in contention."
Mediate was at 9-under 131 and gets to spend a third day with Paul Casey (70), who was at 134 with John Rollins (65).
The group at 5-under 135 featured former British Open champion Ben Curtis (67), former PGA champion Shaun Micheel (68), Players champion Stephen Ames (67), Sergio Garcia (69), and Vaughn Taylor (71).
Mediate has dealt with back issues nearly his entire career, especially after surgery in 1994. One of the low points came last year at the Masters, where he was tied for the lead going into the back nine until his back gave out. Barely able to swing a club, Mediate put three balls in the water on the 12th hole and made 10, tumbling to an 80 and a tie for 36th.
He played sparingly the rest of the year and needed a minor medical exemption to keep his card.
Mediate might not have been at Bay Hill except for a chance meeting with Palmer in December when he asked the tournament host about getting an invitation. Then, Mediate changed his mind. He asked Palmer to watch his game over the first few months of the season, and to offer him a spot if it looked like Mediate was worthy. Mediate tied for ninth at Riviera last month.
Champions -- Hale Irwin shot an 8-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the AT&T Champions Classic in Santa Clarita, Calif.
The 61-year-old Irwin, the 1998 and 2002 tournament champion who won the season-opening MasterCard Championship for his Tour-record 45th victory, had an eagle, seven birdies, and a bogey.
Jim Thorpe, David Edwards, and Isao Aoki opened with 66s, and Loren Roberts, Fuzzy Zoeller, and John Jacobs shot 67s.
European -- Chapchai Nirat of Thailand shot a 6-under 66 to take a six-stroke lead over five players who are at 11-under 133 after the second round of the TCL Classic in Sanya, China. Nirat's lead was fueled mostly by his course-record 61 Thursday at the Yalong Bay Golf Club.