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Waite grabs early lead

The Associated Press

DULUTH, Ga.

Friday, August 17, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. – A gargantuan course was supposed to weed out all those weak-hitting players at the PGA Championship.

As it turned out, about the only guy who struggled in the opening round was the longest hitter of all.

Tiger Woods watched from a distance as Grant Waite grabbed an unlikely lead, David Duval and Phil Mickelson shot themselves into contention and even a trio of club pros broke par at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Woods could only manage a 3-over 73, putting him in a tie for 100th and needing a strong round Friday just to make the cut.

”What did Tiger shoot? 73?” said Bruce Zabriski, head pro at the Trump International Golf Club in Florida, who shot 69. ”Well, I get to tell (his son, Evan) that I beat Tiger Woods.”

So did 99 other guys, including 53-year-old Larry Nelson, a regular on the Senior Tour and winner of the PGA Championship when it was first played at the Highlands Course two decades ago. Woods was just starting first grade that year.

”With my handicap, I’m leading,” quipped Nelson, who had a 68. ”I kind of just played around.”

Everybody did, it seemed.

Waite rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 6-under 64 and a two-stroke lead over nine players. That group included Duval, coming off a victory in the British Open, and Mickelson, still seeking his elusive first major.

Ernie Els led a dozen others at 67. In fact, the 55 players who broke par was the highest number in six years at the PGA Championship.

Then there was Woods.

His summer swoon continued while most of the field was taking advantage of the soft, spongy greens that allowed for an incredible scoring assault on the 7,213-yard course.

Woods had two double bogeys, two three-putt bogeys and not nearly enough solid shots to join the mix. Instead, he signed for his largest first-round deficit in a major since he turned pro five years ago.

”I’m not that far off,” said Woods, who also was nine back at the 1997 U.S. Open. ”If I just eliminate my mistakes, I’m under par.”

Woods failed to break par for the sixth time in his last nine rounds at a major. He previously broke par 13 straight times, a streak that ended at the Masters with his unprecedented sweep of the majors.

Just as surprising as the plethora of low scores was the guy with the lowest one of all.

Waite had never made the cut in four previous PGAs. He had never even had a round in the 60s. The last time he was in contention anywhere, Woods hit a 6-iron from 218 yards out of a fairway bunker, over the water and right at the flag, to birdie the last hole and beat Waite by one stroke at last year’s Canadian Open.

”I’ve never been close to any position like this before,” Waite said. ”This is an adventure. I want to look back at the end of the week and say I enjoyed it.”

After all, the record book is filled with obscure guys who led after the first round of a major. Waite knows it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to duplicate his 64.

”All of a sudden, you’re at the center of attention,” he said. ”Well, not really. Tiger is still the center of attention, but I’m somewhat the center of attention.”

With Woods struggling, the most daunting prospect was Duval, who played as if he just got off a plane from Royal Lytham & St. Annes without losing a step from his British Open victory.

Duval started with three straight birdies, all inside 6 feet, and hit perhaps the most impressive shot of the day with a 5-iron from 198 yards – over the water, right at the flag – to 4 feet on the 490-yard 18th, the longest par 4 in PGA Championship history.

”I haven’t felt this good about my golf or as confident in my abilities in a long, long time,” Duval said.

Mickelson is as confident as ever, despite a history of major meltdowns. His strategy this week is not to win, but to win big.

”I don’t want to come down the stretch and have one shot here or there be critical,” he said. ”I want to have a comfort zone.”

Others at 66 were British Open runner-up Niclas Fasth of Sweden; Stuart Appleby, Dudley Hart, K.J. Choi and short-but-straight Fred Funk.

Els was in the lead at 5 under in the morning until hitting his approach in the water on No. 18 and taking double bogey. He slipped to 67, along with Hal Sutton, Thomas Bjorn and even Nick Faldo.

The group at 68 includes Sergio Garcia and Rick Schuller, who makes a living the other 51 weeks of the year as the pro at Willow Oaks Country Club in Richmond, Va.

The PGA Championship traditionally groups the year’s three major champions, and Woods looked like the one who didn’t belong. U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen had 69.

It was the first time Duval and Woods played together in a major championship since the final round of last year’s British Open. After six holes, Duval already was six shots ahead.

”If I play a good round tomorrow, I should be able to get myself back in the tournament,” Woods said. ”That’s the good thing about major championships. If you go out and play well, you are going to be rewarded.”

Easier said than done.

On the Web: www.pga.com.

On TV: TNT (Friday, 1-7 p.m. EDT; Saturday-Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT) and CBS (Saturday, 1:30-6:30 p.m. EDT; Sunday, 2-7 p.m. EDT.