AP Photo/Steve Nesius Jeff Sluman watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the first round of the Chrysler Championship on Thursday on the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
AP Photo/Steve Nesius
PALM HARBOR, Fla. Golf finally felt easy to Jeff Sluman, and it wasn't hard to see why.
From a fairway bunker on the 18th hole, he had to play a 20-yard hook to avoid the trees and reach the elevated green. His 7-iron stopped 16 inches from the cup for his ninth birdie, a course-record 62 and a two-shot lead in the Chrysler Championship on Thursday.
''You kind of wonder to yourself why in the world you can't do that more often, because it seems so easy,'' Sluman said. ''Other days, making one or two birdies seems like it's going to be impossible.''
The previous record was a 63 by K.J. Choi in the first round in 2002, when he went on to a wire-to-wire victory.
Jonathan Kaye made a hole-in-one with a 3-iron from 222 yards on 17, then followed that with a birdie for a 7-under 64. He was tied with Kirk Triplett and Kent Jones, who is 124th on the money list and took a big step toward keeping his PGA Tour card for next year.
Vijay Singh makes it look easy every day.
The No. 1 player in the world, who only needs to finish in the top 15 at Innisbrook to assure himself a $10 million season, made five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine for a tidy round of 65.
''If you hit decent shots and make some putts, you're going to play well. And that's what I'm doing right now,'' said Singh, making it sound as simple as ever.
The Chrysler Championship is the final full-field tournament of the year, the last chance for players to get into the Tour Championship (top 30 on the money list), the Masters (top 40) or keep their jobs (top 125).
Sluman falls into that none-of-the-above category. He is 79th on the money list, his worst season in 10 years. Only a victory would give him a mathematical chance at playing next week at East Lake, or at Augusta National next April.
But he knows what the pressure is like. A year ago, Sluman bogeyed the final two holes and would have finished 41st on the money list by $900 if either of two players made birdie on the final hole. They made bogey, and Sluman got his ticket to the Masters.
That burden lifted, he cruised around the Copperhead course at Innisbrook in a good frame of mind, hitting fairways and greens and holing more putts than he has all year.
''It's probably a little easier to go out and kind of freewheel it a little bit more, and not be overly concerned if you're on the bubble of any of those areas,'' Sluman said.
Kaye and Jones are on big bubbles.
Kaye is 32nd on the money list, about $32,000 behind No. 30. He turned a good round into a great one quickly with his 3-iron into the hole on the par-3.
''Great finish, man,'' said Kaye, who hit wedge into about 3 feet on the final hole for birdie. ''Doesn't get any better than that for me.''
Jones has been watching his position fluctuate at the bottom of the money list the last few weeks, although he only needed to judge his position on the money list by the number of interviews he has been giving.
''I guess it's a little abnormal that I'm talking to the media as much as I have the last couple of weeks,'' he said.
Jones showed up in Tampa with about a $2,000 lead on Olin Browne. His was more nervous than usual, but settled down quickly with birdies on his first two holes. He made three straight birdies from the 20-foot range and wound up matching his best score of the year.
Browne had a 72, while Craig Barlow (No. 126) had a 74 and will struggle to make the cut.
There were bubble boys everywhere on the leaderboard. The group at 67 included Jay Haas (No. 29 on the money list) and Jose Maria Olazabal, who is 146th and has no plans to go to Q-school. Charles Howell (No. 33) was in the large group at 68.
The Copperhead course is among the best on the Florida swing, and good scores don't come easily. The course played almost a half-shot over par, which made Sluman's 62 even more astounding.
Sluman was on the putting green when Peter Jacobsen walked by and said, ''Tell me you stopped after 16.''
Even Singh was impressed.
''One hell of a score,'' the Fijian told him.
The most appeasing part of his round was seeing so many putts go in. One of those was a 35-footer on No. 9, downhill and downgrain with a severe left-to-right break. It dropped in the center of the cup.
''That was probably the time I said, 'This day has got a chance to be pretty special,''' he said.
SOTOGRANDE, Spain Sergio Garcia shot a 4-under-par 67 in the wind to share the first-round lead at the Volvo Masters with fellow Spaniard Jose Manuel Lara, who was stung by a bee early in his round.
Garcia survived a tough day on the Valderrama course where the Ryder Cup was played seven years ago.
Lara was bothered for a while after the bee sting on the fifth hole. But he regrouped and birdied five of the last 10 holes. At this event, which ends the European tour season, there is no halfway cut. The European Order of Merit title, usually decided at this tournament, already has been won by Ernie Els, who is not playing.
Brian Davis and Alastair Forsyth were at 68, with Luke Donald, Peter O'Malley, Christian Cevaer and Jonathan Lomas at 69.
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