Braves great John Smoltz passed Mardy Fish, the favorite and leader the first two days, for the third-round lead in the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions celebrity division Saturday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Smoltz scored 39 points for a Modified Stableford total of 116 at 6,375-yard Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons. The 2015 first-ballot Hall of Famer was four points ahead of two-time All-Star pitcher Mark Mulder (40) and five up on former tennis star Fish (33).
“My putting has been the best it’s ever been,” Smoltz said.
Smoltz, 51, who qualified for last year’s U.S. Senior Open, made an eagle and two birdies using an unorthodox putting style. His putter stands up by itself after he lines up the stroke and while he checks the putter face’s aim from behind.
Given the many USGA rules changes this year, Smoltz was asked when that putter might be outlawed. “I don’t know, but I think everybody should buy one,” said the owner of a plus 1.5 handicap index and eight holes-in-one, including one on a 334-yard par 4.
He uses a left-hand-low grip on that stand-up putter.
Smoltz credits his golf improvement to increased practice and improved physical condition.
“I've been working on my game for the first time to make the proper swing,” he said. “I'm getting closer and closer to trusting each and every one of them. So in tournament play, hopefully, the more competition I play at a different level will translate.
“Physically I haven’t been able to do this in a long time. I’ve been strengthening my shoulder and really trying to get ready for these kinds of events. To be able to continue to hit balls without pain has been an absolute godsend.”