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Friday, January 9, 2004



[ MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIPS ]


art
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tiger Woods got his hat knocked off by his caddie, Steve Williams, after making an eagle putt on the 18th green yesterday during the first round of the Mercedes Championships.


Shifting conditions

A wind change has the field in
the red and Appleby in
the lead on Maui


KAPALUA, Maui >> Everything the golfers learned during the first few days of practice at the $5.3 million Mercedes Championships went south yesterday with the Kona winds.

Not that too many complained about the shifting conditions that greeted the 30 golfers playing in the winners-only PGA Tour event. But it did take some getting used to during the first 18 holes of 2004.



Mercedes
Championships
leaders

First round

S.Appleby 35-31 -- 66 -7
D.Clarke 33-34 -- 67 -6
K.Triplett 35-33 -- 68 -5
S.Hoch 33-35 -- 68 -5
J.Leonard 34-34 -- 68 -5
V.Singh 34-34 -- 68 -5



Stuart Appleby made the best adjustments over the wide-open Plantation Course and was rewarded with the first-round lead. The Australia native opened with a 7-under 66 that included six birdies on the back nine to lead by one over fast-closing Darren Clarke. Only Jonathan Kaye and Bob Tway failed to shoot even par or better, with 20 of the game's best managing to finish in red figures.

"This is unusual wind," Appleby said. "Very unusual. It's probably the easier wind, I think. I think the other wind (trades) is a lot harder. I'm not 100 percent sure on that, but I'm pretty confident it is.

"I remember nine, hitting driver, driver on nine just to make sure I could get up into that hill. Today it was more like 3-wood, 4-iron you could hit up onto that green. Not the usual wind. A little different to what we'd seen all week. I was pretty unfamiliar with it because I haven't been here for four years."

Clarke hasn't played the Plantation Course since the Lincoln-Mercury days, when it was an unofficial event on the PGA Tour. He arrived on Maui last Friday just to get reacquainted with the place.

"I knew what I was coming to," Clarke said. "I played here a couple of times before. We had a family illness and I couldn't come in 2001. I wasn't here last year. (Defending champion) Ernie (Els) played unbelievable golf from what I've been told. But I think the course last year was playing much firmer, much faster than it is this year.

"I got here on Friday night. Saturday was like a real bad day. Like home, the rain doesn't stop. It's amazing how much the course has dried out since then. If the weather still stays as I believe the forecast is, it will get faster."

Last year, 11 players shot 20 under or better as Els set a 72-hole PGA Tour record at 31 under par. Nobody expects that to happen again anytime soon. In all, 11 golfers shot 69 or better yesterday.

After Appleby and Clarke, Kirk Triplett, Scott Hoch, Justin Leonard and Vijay Singh were tied for third with 5-under rounds of 68. Shigeki Maruyama, John Huston, Adam Scott, Fred Couples and Davis Love III were another shot back at 69.

Els is tied for 21st after opening with an even-par 73. Tiger Woods hung around that total as well before rolling in an eagle putt on No. 18 to finish with a 2-under 71.

"I finally got something to drop," Woods said of the 15-foot putt. "I didn't play very well today. I either hit some great shots or some horrendous ones. I'm happy to be in the red."

Woods wasted little time after his interview by the scorer's tent. He and his caddy went to the practice range to work on his swing. Woods won this event in 2000, beating Els in a playoff. He missed playing here last year because he had surgery on his knee.

"I didn't have a lot of fun out there today," said Woods, who had a double bogey on the par-5 fifth. "Hopefully, I can find my swing tomorrow and come out and have a better round of golf."

It will be hard to match what Appleby managed in these windy conditions. After opening with a bogey on the first hole, Appleby made the turn at 1 under with back-to-back birdies on holes five and six. He then birdied five of six holes on the back nine, including three straight on 10, 11 and 12.

"The greens are big and spacious," Appleby said. "You can hit them, but you don't want to be too far away based on the gradient of this property, it's pretty slopey. You're going to struggle if you're a long way away."

Hoch and Leonard backed up that thought. Despite finishing with 5-under rounds, the two playing partners weren't exactly enamored with their play.

"I didn't make a lot of putts on these greens," Hoch said. "The weather was different than I remember it here. But I'm happy with my score."

Leonard added, "Scott kind of pulled me around today. I didn't do a lot of great things, but I'm right in it. Make some putts tomorrow and who knows?"

Who, indeed. The weather forecast calls for sunny and breezy conditions, including winds from the south that could hit 20 mph.

"The conditions are fine," Woods said. "It's my swing I hope to improve."


Mercedes Championships

At Kapalua, Maui
Purse: $5.3 million
First round, par-73
Stuart Appleby 35-31 -- 66
Darren Clarke 33-34 -- 67
Kirk Triplett 35-33 -- 68
Scott Hoch 33-35 -- 68
Justin Leonard 34-34 -- 68
Vijay Singh 34-34 -- 68
Shigeki Maruyama 33-36 -- 69
John Huston 36-33 -- 69
Adam Scott 34-35 -- 69
Fred Couples 35-34 -- 69
Davis Love III 34-35 -- 69
Retief Goosen 34-36 -- 70
J.L. Lewis 34-36 -- 70
Shaun Micheel 33-37 -- 70
Peter Jacobsen 35-35 -- 70
Jim Furyk 33-37 -- 70
Chad Campbell 35-36 -- 71
Ben Crane 35-36 -- 71
Tiger Woods 36-35 -- 71
Mike Weir 35-36 -- 71
Tommy Armour III 38-35 -- 73
Craig Stadler 39-34 -- 73
Ben Curtis 33-40 -- 73
Rory Sabbatini 35-38 -- 73
Steve Flesch 35-38 -- 73
Kenny Perry 38-35 -- 73
Frank Lickliter II 35-38 -- 73
Ernie Els 37-36 -- 73
Jonathan Kaye 37-37 -- 74
Bob Tway 38-38 -- 76




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