Lehman has lead at Buick Invite

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2005


  Tom Lehman waves to the gallery after making his sixth consecutive birdie on the 18th hole of the North Course at Torrey Pines to finish at 10-under-par and the first round lead at the Buick Invitational, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, in San Diego. AP Photo/Denis Poroy

Tom Lehman waves to the gallery after making his sixth consecutive birdie on the 18th hole of the North Course at Torrey Pines to finish at 10-under-par and the first round lead at the Buick Invitational, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, in San Diego.

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

SAN DIEGO — Tom Lehman was so locked into his game Thursday that he didn't realize until after his round he had birdied the last six holes for a 10-under 62 and a one-shot lead in the Buick Invitational.

One thing was clear: He must have been on the North course at Torrey Pines.

In a tournament that takes two days to figure out who's playing the best, Lehman matched his career-low round on the easier North course with a steady diet of fairways and greens. He birdied nine of his final 12 holes for a one-shot lead over Dean Wilson.

''I'm doing a lot of things right that you need to do right out here,'' Lehman said. ''It would have been nice to continue to the first tee on the South course and keep going.''

Or maybe not.

All but two of the top 17 scores came from the North course, which played nearly three strokes easier.

Aaron Baddeley (66) and Peter Lonard (67) had the best scores on the South course, which plays at 7,568 yards and will host the U.S. Open in 2008.

Among the top six players in the world at Torrey Pines, only Ernie Els played the North course (6,873 yards). He also took advantage, making nine birdies and getting away with a few sloppy shots for a 7-under 65.

''You have one chance to shoot something really decent,'' Els said. ''And you've got to hope for the best on the South. These are totally different. One is like a pitch-and-putt, and then you get to the real world.''

The average score on the South course was 72.43, compared with 69.56 on the North.

Over in the real world, Tiger Woods struggled with lingering affects from the flu by making a 45-foot birdie on the par-3 third and twice saving par with long putts for a 69, putting him in a large group that included Sergio Garcia.

Vijay Singh, who missed his only cut last year at the Buick Invitational, birdied his final hole for a 71 on the South. Phil Mickelson made an inauspicious debut by hitting only five fairway, playing the par 5s in 2 over and shooting 72.

No other PGA Tour event played on multiple courses has such a disparity.

A year ago, the North course was 3.53 strokes easier than the South course at Torrey Pines. The next greatest difference in courses was at the Bob Hope Classic, where La Quinta was 2.35 strokes higher than Indian Wells.

Arron Oberholser polished off his 64 on the North course and already was looking ahead.

''It's nice to get off to a good start, knowing I've got to play the Monster tomorrow,'' he said.

Lehman didn't shoot 62 simply because he was on North.

The Ryder Cup captain has been playing solid golf since the end of last year. All his work on the short game started to kick in at the Canadian Open, and Lehman finished the year by playing in the final group in three straight tournaments, although he didn't win any of them.

He made his '05 debut last week in the Sony Open and tied for ninth.

''I'm hitting on the same things that I used to hit on when I was playing my best — patience and ball control,'' Lehman said. ''Put it in play and don't make too many mistakes, make a few putts. Some days you make more than others, but I feel like I'm in the same place as I was when I was playing my best.''

At this rate, it might not be too far-fetched to consider him playing in the Ryder Cup, instead of driving around in a cart with a radio plugged to his ear.

''It's a long way off, two years, and I haven't won a tournament since 2000,'' Lehman said. ''It would be an upset if I made the team at this point. But if my game keeps progressing, you never know.''

Woods started his season well at Kapalua, then went home and stayed in bed for a week with the flu.

''I didn't feel like I was very strong out there,'' he said. ''But hey, I hung in there and made a few putts. And lo and behold, I shot a round under par.''

Singh was never under par at any point in his round until he hit a wedge into about 8 feet on his final hole for birdie. He, too, struggled with his driver, hitting only five fairways.

But all of them — Woods, Singh, Garcia, even Mickelson — now take on a North course where anything worse than 67 feels like a failure. Still, there are no guarantees in golf.

''There's more pressure over there,'' Lehman said of the North. ''It's easy to get very impatient on the North if things are not going your way and the ball is not dropping. I remember shooting 72 out there one year when I felt like I played really well. It's a kick in the teeth to do that.''

Divots: David Duval made the turn on the South course at 1 over par and cruising along until running into problems. He played his last seven holes in 6 over and shot 79. ... Defending champion John Daly had an even-par 72. ... Dick Mast, the 53-year-old who caught a redeye from Honolulu and qualified for the Buick Invitational, opened with a 72. ... Bill Haas is playing the next two weeks on a sponsor's exemption, and might try to Monday qualify for the Phoenix Open before going down to Australia to start his Nationwide Tour season. Haas opened with a 71 on the South course, the same score as 51-year-old father Jay Haas.

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