- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. Australian Grant Waite had the audacity to crash the high-profile party taking place atop the leader board at the 83rd PGA Championship yesterday.

Waite, who hasn't made a cut at a major championship since 1997, scorched around Atlanta Athletic Club's Highlands Course in just 64 strokes, pulling two clear of a nine-player scrum featuring David Duval and Phil Mickelson.

"I'm very proud and honored to play this well in a major championship," said the 36-year-old Waite. "Not everyone can say that they have led a major championship before, and it's a privilege."

Waite earned every bit of the privilege by pounding the monstrous 7,213-yard, par-70 layout into submission. Waite's number was the second-best opening score in the history of the season's final major.

His card did not include a bogey. It did include him hitting 14 greens and stuffing in six mostly point-blank birdies. And it didn't include a birdie on the hardest stretch of golf course this side of the Road Hole.

Providing a perfect ending to his flawless round, Waite coasted home a 15-footer on AAC's 490-yard, water-guarded, 18th hole, which is masquerading this week as a par 4. A lesser man might have bowed after such a finale on such a day. But instead, Waite just floated into the interview room and tried to explain why he has never done this at a major championship before, making just two cuts in 10 Slam starts and never finishing higher than 36th.

"I haven't played particularly well at majors, mostly because I go in there and I'm trying so hard to play well," said Waite. "You want to play well, and I haven't performed. Each time that you struggle in a major, it becomes more difficult at the next one because you don't have that good feeling about it."

Waite wasn't really able to explain how he got that "good feeling" yesterday. Chances are it didn't come from the six straight cuts he had missed in regular Tour events heading into this week. And it's a pretty safe bet that the emotional carryover from his one and only Tour victory (1993 Kemper Open) faded several years ago.

Unfortunately, you don't take too many psychological chits to the tee against the big boys for winning the D.C. area's hackathon. In fact, most in attendance probably expect Waite to act like any good rabbit should over the next three days, setting a nice pace for Duval, Mickelson and the other prime contenders before gracefully exiting before the real weekend fireworks.

"Being in the lead certainly adds another dimension to it," Waite said when asked if he felt he could continue his brilliant play from the front. "All of a sudden, you're the center of attention starting the day well not really. Tiger is still the center of attention, but he doesn't tee off until the afternoon, so you're somewhat the center of attention."

Actually, Waite and Woods enter the day under similar scrutiny. Waite is trying to keep from exploding under the first-time stress of a major lead, albeit after just one round. And Woods, who continued his poor opening-round play recently with a double-bogey-ridden 73, is trying not to miss his first cut in 74 starts dating back to 1997 (Canadian Open).

With AAC's incredibly long, relatively open track favoring long hitters, Woods and the game's other big hitters were expected to flourish this week. Mickelson and Duval, Nos. 2 and 3 in the world, respectively, did their part. But Woods, No. 1 by a sizable stretch, doesn't look like the same player who won his fourth consecutive major at the Masters earlier this year.

"I don't know [what's wrong with Tiger]," said Duval, who played with Woods and U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen in the day's most prestigious threesome. "It's just golf. You know, the guy is in a tough spot because he's not winning every week; he's getting crucified, everyone wants to know what's wrong."

Duval knows the feeling. Before his breakthrough major win at last month's British Open, he was faced with some of the same questions, although on a much smaller scale.

But now that Duval has the claret jug in his possession, he's developed a case of the perma-grins and his game looks better than ever. Duval, who attended nearby Georgia Tech, had an enormous following yesterday. And with every swing he took and every stroke he put between himself and Tiger, it became clearer whom the locals were rooting for, and against.

"Yeah, it's hard not to notice the noise, the support," said Duval. "People really haven't stopped yelling their support at me since I got here on Sunday."

And with his game honed, the crowd crowing and all the old major baggage cast aside, Duval certainly feels capable of pulling off a rare double this week.

"I just feel good about my golf, and I feel like I know how to win these golf tournaments and what it takes," said Duval. "I have a tremendous amount of confidence right now, and I think that the ultimate weapon in this game."

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