- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

It has been nearly a decade since Corey Pavin was a leader board staple on the PGA Tour before age and growing course lengths began creeping upon him.

Still, under the right conditions, the veteran still can contend.

Those circumstances came together in the first round of yesterday’s AT&T; National as Pavin shot a 3-under 67 to join a scrum of seven players within a shot of the lead.

“The firm fairways and greens that are receptive is my favorite setup,” Pavin said. “The long rough is fine with me, too. But it’s probably the best setup for my game when the course plays like that.”

Pavin endured a rough start, bogeying two of the first six holes after starting at No. 10. But he birdied the 28th, then rolled in a 27-footer at No. 18 to get back to even. He added three more birdies on the front nine — including a pair of 23-foot putts at Nos. 2 and 5 — to earn a share of the early lead.

The surge places Pavin in position potentially to contend for his first top-10 finish since a tie for sixth at Pebble Beach in February and perhaps even more.

Pavin was at one time one of the tour’s biggest stars, winning 14 times between 1984 and 1996, including the 1995 U.S. Open. But at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, he was vulnerable to the development of new technology and the trend of adding length to golf courses to offset increasingly stronger players.

He went just more than a decade without capturing a title before breaking through again at Milwaukee last summer and earning a two-year exemption that will take him through his 49th birthday.

“I think the deck is stacked against me more and more as we go along,” Pavin said. “Not only am I getting older obviously like everybody is, but I’m kind of old. So it’s nice to win at the age I won, plus the fact these young guys out there are hitting it long and they are bigger and stronger. It’s a different game than it was 10, 15 years ago, for sure it is.”

A course can help level those changes as Congressional appears to have done this week.

“The setup is probably more like a PGA this week because the greens are a little more receptive,” Pavin said. “But Congressional has all its armor up except for the firm greens.”

Proper perspective

Billy Andrade, who won the Kemper Open across the street at TPC at Avenel in 1991, fell out of a share of the lead with a bogey at his final hole but still delivered a sound 2-under 68.

He remained at 3 under for much of his last nine holes and even found some encouragement from a fan at No. 7.

“He said, ‘You won, man. You got it. You’re in the bag. You can start spending that money,’ ” Andrade said. “I said, ‘Thanks pal, there’s a lot of tournaments I’ve won on Thursday.’ [He said], ‘You don’t need to play on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, pal. You’ve got it.’ ”

“[I said], ‘All right, have another beer.’ ”

Dinner date

Fred Funk’s opening 67 was just the latest highlight in his busy week.

Funk and several other American players, including Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III, visited the White House on Wednesday night to celebrate Independence Day. The golfers were part of a group of about 160 guests who also helped President Bush enjoy an early celebration of his 61st birthday, which is today.

“Barbara Bush was taking us in their room where they were staying,” Funk said. “They had the one door shut where George lives and his office, but there wasn’t anything else we didn’t see. It was amazing.”

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