- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

CHASKA, Minn. The PGA Championship has always been the Ellis Island of majors, routinely welcoming golf's undecorated masses to the top of its leader board. So it came as little surprise when the first round of the 84th PGA behaved accordingly yesterday at Hazeltine, yielding a front-running pack of major-less hopefuls.

"I think 12 of the last 16 champions here were first-time major winners," said veteran Jim Furyk, who shares the lead with Takoma Park native Fred Funk after both posted 68s on the wind-swept 7,360-yard, par-72 track. "I like the way you're thinking. But that history probably isn't going to help me that much."

What is likely to help Furyk, and the rest of the field with early-morning tee times yesterday, is a draw that dropped a double-whammy on the unlucky afternoon players.

Thanks to a morning electrical storm that delayed play for nearly three hours, 39 of the 156 competitors were unable to complete opening-round play. Not only must that unlucky portion of the field return to Hazeltine early this morning for a long day's work, the afternoon unfortunates also had to deal with the worst of yesterday's wind.

"Yeah, I'm glad I'm not out there this afternoon, because I think the wind is going to get even worse," said pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods after beginning his quest for a three-major season with a grinding 71. "Overall today, I hit the ball pretty good, except for my driver. No matter what I tried to do with that club, I just seemed to get out of rhythm. I got the club stuck behind me and I would flip it left, or hang on to it and hit it right."

Despite his pre-tournament proclamation that he would hit no more than five drivers in a given round, Woods used the club seven times and paid the price by missing fairways with five of those swings. Perhaps the ugliest part of his game, however, was his chipping, which cost him back-to-back strokes at Nos.18 and 1.

"I flubbed the first one, and drew a bad lie in a divot on the second," explained Woods, who did not look the least bit sharp despite his sub-par score. "I'm more concerned with my extended swing. I know what I'm doing wrong. It's just a matter of trusting it and getting the reps in, which I'll do this afternoon."

Though Tiger is always the most compelling player, perhaps the most intriguing names on the leader board are those of Justin Rose and Peter Lonard, both one back after opening 69s.

Rose, a British star who has won four times around the globe this season, is making his first professional start in the United States. Few players have enjoyed such a solid debut as Rose rode a hot putter around Hazeltine to put himself in early contention at a second consecutive major.

"I've been sort of unbelievably relaxed, really, this week," said the 22-year-old of his virgin experience in the States. "I didn't have any nerves on the first tee whatsoever."

The same could be said for Lonard, who is so laid back he would make a sloth look anxious. The 35-year-old Aussie has one of the strangest stories in the profession. After taking up the game late against his father's wishes, he was finally starting to round into professional form in 1992 when he caught a strange Mosquito-borne virus called Ross River Fever while playing on the Gold Coast in Australia.

"It's a virus that gives you arthritis in your hip joints and all that sort of stuff, fatigue, a little bit like glandular fever," said Lonard after making just one bogey on the wind-buffeted layout. "I couldn't really do anything but wait for it to run it's course, and it took the better part of two years. I went back home I guess that's every parent's worst nightmare sat on the couch, watched TV and gained like 75 or 80 pounds."

Lonard felt healthy enough to take a club pro job in 1994, playing the occasional Australian Tour event. And when he recorded his breakthrough victory at the 1997 Australian Masters, he returned to the play-for-pay ranks full time, once again against his father's advice.

"He thought it was an old man's game and it was too expensive," said Lonard, who has an incredibly agile wit. "He's still trying to accept the fact that I do this for a living. At the 1997 Australian Masters, I went to a playoff, and he was sick of walking around outside in the gallery, so he went into the clubhouse to watch. There was this bloke in there who said something like, 'This guy Lonard has finished second five times.' And my dad, he says to the guy, 'Yeah, and this is going to be number six.' So he was never a real believer my career choice."

The rest of the world believes after Lonard played four solid years on the European Tour, made it through PGA Tour School in his first try before this season and proceeded to record 11 top-25 starts on Tour without missing a cut in 17 starts.

"I'm probably the oldest rookie on earth," said Lonard, a virtual lock to win the Tour's Rookie of the Year Award with his 31st-place position on the money list ($1.12million). "As far as this week goes, I feel pretty good. The windier it gets, the better my chances. I guess I'll hang around and see what happens."

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