Ernie Els shot a 64 to tie Jim Furyk for the first-round lead yesterday at the Mercedes Championships in Kapalua, Maui.

Els and Furyk take
early Mercedes lead

The veterans outplay
the newcomers on a
near-perfect first day

Price makes rare stop

By Paul Arnett

KAPALUA, Maui >> Youth may be served by the weekend, but yesterday's opening course at the $5 million Mercedes Championships was vintage Ernie Els and Jim Furyk.

Furyk is the 2001 champion of this season-opening event and the only man in a field of 18 first-time winners to have played here every year since the tournament moved to Maui in 1999. He shot a sizzling 9-under 64 to share the early lead with Els.

Els lost to Tiger Woods here in a memorable playoff in 2000, despite eagling the 18th on the final day. He left a course-tying eagle putt short on the finishing hole yesterday, settling for a tap-in birdie.

A disappointing par on the 18th kept Furyk from tying the course record set by 1999 Mercedes champion David Duval. It was equaled by Canadian Mike Weir, who opened last year's event with a 10-under 63, only to disappear from view over the final three days.

That's not likely to happen to Furyk, who owns a home within shouting distance of the 18th green of the sprawling Plantation Course. The 32-year-old veteran of the PGA Tour is equally comfortable in yesterday's calm conditions and the windy weather expected to blow through West Maui over the weekend.

But if you're wondering whether Furyk feels like he has home-field advantage over his fellow 35 competitors, forget about it. He knows Els is quite capable of tracking down Duval's 72-hole record of 266, no matter what kicks up the next few days.

"I think I'm fortunate," said Furyk, who finished third last year, two strokes behind defending champion Sergio Garcia. "I've played a lot of events here. This is the fifth time for the Mercedes. I played a lot here when it was a November event. I got to see the course in a lot of different conditions and styles."

Els said yesterday he had never seen the course in better shape or the weather more calm.

"You have to take advantage when the conditions are like this," Els said." I said before we went out that we better get going early this time, I don't know if we're going to have another day like this. I hit it nicely. I putted nicely. I had a nice day."

So did most of the field. Only three of the 36 golfers shot even-par or worse. Furyk and Els hold a one-shot lead over defending Sony Open champion Jerry Kelly, rising star Chris Riley and born-again tour player Gene Sauers. Bob Estes and Shigeki Maruyama are another shot back, tied for sixth at 66.

With so many new players in the field -- there are only eight golfers who were in the tournament last year -- it figured those with course knowledge would have an early advantage. Furyk posted his 64 about a half-hour before Els caught him on the 18th. Had Els not left his 25-footer for eagle about 2 feet short, he would have been alone in the clubhouse.

The last seven times Els has played the 663-yard final hole, he has produced four birdies and one eagle. His secret?

"Just get on the tee and hit it as hard as you can," Els said. "Aim right and just blast it. The second shot is more of the same. You just got to keep it further right than you think. Hopefully, it will keep on treating me good."

Furyk wasn't as fortunate. He used two 4-woods and a chip to get within 15 feet for a birdie. That putt slipped by, leaving a bad taste for Furyk.

"Yeah, it was disappointing on the back," Furyk said. "I didn't birdie either par-5 on the back after getting an eagle on No. 9. You can always look back and say 'I missed a few,' but I also made a bomb (40-footer for birdie on No. 17)."

Kelly, Riley and Sauers made a few as well. Riley shot an opening-round 65 at the Sony Open last year before fading down the stretch. Sauers continues to rejuvenate a career that went south in the 1990s.

One of Sauers' three PGA Tour victories occurred at the Hawaiian Open in 1989. He jumped into the top 100 money winners last year for the first time since 1989.

"Chris (Riley) and I kind of fed off each other today," said Sauers, who was voted the 2002 comeback player of the year. "I'm happy to be in the situation that I am in right now."

Riley echoed that sentiment.

"I think Gene and I absolutely fed off each other," Riley said. "We both played well. He told me it was his first time over here in 13 years. I knew who Gene Sauers was when I first came out on tour. We had fun."

One person who did not was Garcia. The defending champion shot a ho-hum 71 to finish in a tie for 23rd.


At Kapalua, Maui

First Round

Jim Furyk 31-33 -- 64 -9

Ernie Els 33-31 -- 64 -9

Chris Riley 32-33 -- 65 -8

Gene Sauers 32-33 -- 65 -8

Jerry Kelly 33-32 -- 65 -8

Bob Estes 34-32 -- 66 -7

S. Maruyama 33-33 -- 66 -7

K.J. Choi 34-33 -- 67 -6

J. Byrd 35-33 -- 68 -5

L. Donald 33-35 -- 68 -5

P. Tataurangi 34-34 -- 68 -5

L. Roberts 33-35 -- 68 -5

Vijay Singh 34-34 -- 68 -5

Mercedes Championships

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