Tiger not only show at The Players Championship

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2003

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. Believe it or not, there's more than one player in The Players Championship.

Tiger Woods and his dominant game took a detour Thursday by spraying the ball around the TPC at Sawgrass. That cleared the way for 49-year-old Jay Haas and an older generation to take the early lead in golf's first big event of the year.

One year away from the Champions Tour, Haas pieced together a 4-under 68 in swirling winds and under the threat of rain to share the clubhouse lead with Rocco Mediate, Bob Tway and Skip Kendall.

All of the leaders are in their 40s, except for Kendall he's a spry 38.

Woods, coming off an 11-stroke victory at Bay Hill for his third win in four tournaments this year, spent most of his morning playing from ankle-deep grass and rallied over the final few holes for an even-par 72.

Just trying to get to even par would have been a heck of an accomplishment considering the way I was hitting it today,'' Woods said. I'm very happy to end up where I was.''

Overnight showers drenched the TPC at Sawgrass, and a batch of afternoon thunderstorms finally suspended the first round with 68 players still on the course.

They will return at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

Kevin Sutherland was at 4 under par through 16 holes. Others who didn't finish include Fred Couples, a two-time winner at The Players Championship. He was the only player to get to 5 under par, but back-to-back bogeys dropped him to 3 under with four holes to play.

Stewart Cink, who played in the final group with Woods last week at Bay Hill, had a 69, while John Daly was in the group at 70.

All eyes were on Woods coming into The Players Championship, not just because of his victories, but how easily he was winning.

From his opening tee shot that sailed toward the trees, it was clear Woods was not going to breeze through the round. After going 47 straight holes without a bogey, Woods made two in a row. He was never under par at any point in his round.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. Annika Sorenstam began the day thinking even par would be a very good score. Then the wind died down, the birdies started coming and she found herself in a familiar place at the Kraft Nabisco.

Sorenstam shot a 4-under 68 Thursday to take a two-shot lead over Karrie Webb and three others after one round in the first LPGA Tour major championship of the year.

Trying to become the first woman to win the same major championship three years in a row in 64 years, Sorenstam birdied the final two holes in a round that was efficient even by the standards of the most dominant player in women's golf.

Now I feel comfortable,'' Sorenstam said. Getting off to a good start is important. I know you can't win tournaments like this on the first day, but you can lose them.''

Sorenstam's only real mistakes came at the 16th hole when she nearly pulled an 8-iron out of bounds and then mangled a flop shot. But she came right back to knock it to 12 feet on the par-3 17th for birdie and followed that with a birdie four on the 18th hole.

For playing partner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, it was fun just to be in the same group.

She's going to play well so it's motivating,'' Meunier-Lebouc said. She seems so relaxed on the course, yet at the same time so aggressive. She's really balanced.''

Meunier-Lebouc, who played with Sorenstam over the weekend at Phoenix, was one of those two shots back with a 2-under 70. Also grouped there were Laura Davies, Michele Redman and Webb.

Another shot back was a group of players including Se Ri Pak, who beat Sorenstam last week in Phoenix.

But the day belonged to Sorenstam, who hasn't had a lot of success in majors but has won this tournament the last two years. She got an early start when the wind was still whipping around the Dinah Shore tournament course at Mission Hills Country Club, then took advantage when the winds died down.

When we teed off this morning it was very, very windy,'' Sorenstam said. I read the weather forecast, and I thought it was going to get worse. I was really looking at par as a great score today.''

Sorenstam had already posted her score by the time the late groups teed off. She lost to Pak after holding a lead going into the final round last week, but her fellow competitors didn't doubt she would be among the leaders this week.

You expect Annika to do that,'' Davies said. It would be a little more worrying if she wasn't on the leaderboard. You'd wonder if something was wrong.''

The wind affected play early, then calmed on a warm day in the desert. Players found the 6,520-yard course playing shorter than usual because the ball was running and the greens were firm.

Davies, who could complete a career grand slam by winning here, was a little disappointed the rough wasn't deeper but said the firmness of the greens more than made up for it.

We were trying to hit it on the front of the greens and we knew it would bounce up,'' Davies said.

Sorenstam said the rough was plenty deep, though she only found it twice in a round that featured back-to-back birdies on the ninth and tenth holes and again on the finishing holes.

I was hitting out of my shoes to go anywhere,'' she said. Maybe it's not as high, but it feels very healthy and very thick.''

While Sorenstam had the lead, she had to compete for the gallery with long-hitting 13-year-old Michelle Wie.

The eighth-grader from Hawaii consistently powered tee shots over 300 yards, outdriving her playing partners by 50 or 60 yards, on her way to an even par 72.

I had a really good time,'' Wie said. Natalie (Gulbis) and Christina (Kim) were really nice to me.''

Divots: Slow play plagued the opening round, with some threesomes taking 5 1/2 hours to finish. ... Wie said Gulbis played a trick on her by telling her she couldn't change balls on the course before laughing. ... Aree Song, who challenged for the lead here three years ago as a 13-year-old, shot a 72. ... Sorenstam was nearly through with her post-round comments when asked if she thought she would go without getting a question about her playing at Colonial. Well, am I?'' she asked.

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