Tour trends converge at Disney World Golf Classic

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2002

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Some of the most notable trends on the PGA Tour converged in the first round of the Disney World Golf Classic.

Jeff Sluman is among five players 40-and-over who have won this year, and his 9-under 63 for a share of the lead Thursday got him off to a good start in his quest for his first multiple-win season in 17 years.

Looking for another first-time winner? There was Bob Burns with a bogey-free 63, hoping to add to the record of 15 players who have captured their first PGA Tour victory.

Asians have won three times this year, another record. The latest candidate could be that mighty mite from Japan, 5-foot-5 Hidemichi Tanaka, who made 10 birdies on the easy Palm course for a 63.

And then there's Tiger Woods, the ultimate trendsetter.

Playing for the first time since the Ryder Cup, Woods overcame one wild adventure and two bogeys for a 66, his ninth consecutive round in the 60s at Disney.

''I'll take it,'' Woods said.

Disney was there for the taking on a warm, sunny day next to the Magic Kingdom, where 125 out of the 143 players were at par or better.

For Sluman, it was a reminder of how far he has come in the 20 years since he first played a tournament at Disney.

Back then it was on the now-defunct Space Coast Tour, where he competed against the likes of Phil Blackmaar, Russ Cochran and Joey Sindelar, all trying to find their way in golf on a mini-tour.

Sluman won $15,000, chump change compared to the $666,000 going to the winner this week at Disney.

Still, the Space Coast Tour proved to be a launching pad for Sluman, who earned his PGA Tour card later that year and embarked on a career that has included a PGA Championship among his six victories, and earnings over $12.7 million.

''There was a lot of pressure in that it helped me get over the hurdles,'' Sluman said. ''All those experiences, even on mini-tours, certainly help later on in your life.''

He is only five years away from the senior tour, but still shows plenty of game. Sluman won at Milwaukee this year, joining Gene Sauers, Dan Forsman, Nick Price and Loren Roberts as players who have won in their 40s this year.

''Golf is getting to be a game when you can play well into your 40s,'' Sluman said

Sluman did just about everything right on Thursday, with seven of his birdies from inside 6 feet. He atoned for his only big mistake by making a 35-footer for birdie on No. 10.

Tanaka was even more dynamic with 10 birdies, offset by a three-putt bogey. He is one of the shortest players on tour, with a 27-inch waist and size 8 1/2 shoes.

''I would like to win for the little guys,'' said Tanaka, who has a big smile to go with his tiny physique. ''My feeling is if I can win, anyone can win.''

Burns, who is 118th on the money list and needs a good week to secure his card, found the right formula. He made 18 birdies last week at Las Vegas and still missed the cut. This time, he did away with the big numbers.

''Make a bunch of birdies, don't make bogeys. That's the scoop,'' said Burns, who came close to his first victory earlier this year at the Kemper Open.

Woods showed a few signs of rust, but they certainly didn't come out on his card. It was his ninth consecutive round in the 60s at Disney, a score that could have been better if not for a bogey on his final hole at the Palm course, and a treasure hunt through the shrubs.

Because the grass was sparse on the 17th tee, tour officials moved the tees up 25 yards on the 397-yard hole.

''Why are we playing the ladies' tees?'' Woods joked.

The rest of the hole didn't produce too many giggles.

Trying to cut off the dogleg, Woods hit his ball so far right that he played a provisional in case he couldn't find it. He had no idea that David Duval, playing in the group ahead, also went right and was still waiting on a rule when Woods' ball sailed by.

''It wasn't even close'' to hitting him, Woods said. ''That's how far right I hit it.''

Woods wandered through the bushes before he found his ball under a large shrub. He took a penalty stroke and hit a wedge over the palm trees, over the gallery surrounding the green and to about 12 feet. He missed the putt for what would have been a great par.

''There are days where you kind of slap around and get it in the hole somehow,'' Woods said. ''Other parts of the game are going to be better than others.''

Divots: David Toms didn't get off to a great start. Walking to the first tee, he slipped on a wet section of the walkway. He tore some flesh out of his hand while trying to break his fall, and wound up with a nasty scrape on his lower right leg. Toms wound up with a 69. ... Duval recovered from a triple bogey on his opening hole for a 69. ... Fred Couples, making a rare appearance at Disney, hit only five balls on the range before he felt his back stiffen. He thought about withdrawing, but instead posted a casual 68. ... Hal Sutton, playing his final tournament of the year, matched his best score of the year with a 5-under 67.

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