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Joe Durant was so frustrated trying to play golf for a living that he quit the game to sell insurance. Luckily for him, he turned out to be even worse at selling than he had been at playing.

Durant's decision to return to golf paid more dividends Friday when he shot a 67 to take a three-shot lead over Paul Stankowski through three rounds of the Bob Hope Classic.

The 5-under round was the worst yet this week for Durant, who shot a 61 a day earlier. But he kept the same lead he had starting the day with two rounds to go in the 90-hole tournament.

"Anytime you shoot a low round, the next day is kind of difficult," Durant said. "It was a little tough to follow yesterday."

Playing with three amateurs on the PGA West Palmer course, Durant's solid but unspectacular round was good enough to get him to 23 under on a day when the scoring assault abated somewhat. Though the scores weren't quite as low as the first two days, 92 of the 128 players in the field still broke par.

It still left him in position to challenge Tom Kite's tour record of 35 under set here in 1993, but more importantly it gave him a bit of a cushion going into the weekend where birdies figure to be plentiful.

A day after Durant shot a 61 and three others had 62s, the lowest round Friday was a 63 by Scott McCarron. Stankowski had a 65 to get to three back, while Kevin Sutherland was another shot back and four others were tied at five off the lead heading into today's fourth round (3 p.m., Ch. 7).

Sutherland provided some excitement with a hole-in-one on the 130-yard 17th hole en route to a 66 on the PGA West course, one of four in the Hope rotation.

Durant, whose only win came in the 1998 Western Open, very nearly saw his golf career end before he made it to the PGA Tour. A mini-tour player, he was so frustrated with golf in 1991 that he quit to sell insurance. But Durant failed to sell one policy in three months.

Durant went to work for a golf mail-order shop and, five months after quitting the game, began playing again. He toiled on the Nike Tour for the better part of six years before finally finding a full-time place on the PGA Tour in 1997.

Nicklaus, Tewell share lead

LUTZ, Fla. -- The Golden Bear is back.

Jack Nicklaus shot a 4-under-par 67 for a share of the first-round lead with Doug Tewell in the Verizon Classic.

"I managed my game well," Nicklaus of his bogey-free round on the TPC at Tampa Bay. "I didn't play one of my better rounds of golf, but I scored one of my better rounds."

The 61-year-old star is winless since 1996.

"I haven't had a lot of fun in my golf game since I got my hip done," said Nicklaus, who had hip replacement surgery in January 1999. "Guys have come back from it, but it takes a while. I didn't think it would take that long. I just feel good. I'm tickled with that."

Ray Floyd, rebounding from an upper respiratory infection, opened with a 68.

Matthew holds steady

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- Scotland's Catriona Matthew shot a 1-under-par 71 to maintain her two-stroke lead in the windswept Hawaiian Ladies Open.

Matthew, who opened with a 67 on Thursday, had four birdies, a bogey and a double bogey on the Kapolei Golf Course. Nancy Scranton matched the tournament record with a 64 to join Vicki Goetze-Ackerman at 4-under 140.

Matthew was 7 under after 14 holes, but had a double bogey on the 337-yard sixth. She rebounded to birdie No. 7 and closed with two pars.

Wendy Ward was three strokes back at 3-under 141 after a 67.

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