Five top leaderboard in Mercedes-Benz Championship
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Every player walked off the 18th green Thursday and deposited an autographed golf ball into the new FedExCup trophy that will be awarded at the end of the season.
1. Singh (-8)
T-2. MacKenzie (-7)
T-2. Immelman (-7)
T-4. Love III (-5)
T-4. Couch (-5)
T-4. Holmes (-5)
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Convinced that he has figured out his flaws, determined not to let another opportunity on Maui slip away, Singh survived the raging trade wind at Kapalua to make six birdies for a 4-under 69, leaving him in a five-way tie for the lead as the PGA Tour season began in strenuous conditions.
"There's so much going on about FedExCup, I'm tired of listening to it," Singh said. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a good year. There's still tournaments out there that we have to focus on, and not focus on the FedExCup itself. Right now, my focus is going to be on winning golf tournaments."
This one might require some patience.
The wind was so strong that Stephen Ames had 152 yards to the hole at No. 13 and ripped a 5-iron. He called it the toughest wind since Saturday at Muirfield in the 2002 British Open, the day Tiger Woods' hope for a Grand Slam ended with an 81.
The result was a crowd atop the leaderboard.
K.J. Choi struck the first shot of the season and was the first to post a 69 with a nice chip to tap-in range on the par-5 18th. Will MacKenzie, one of 13 newcomers to the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and Brett Wetterich and Ames eventually joined the lead.
Love was poised to join them until he hit a slight fade that the wind turned into a wild slice, the ball disappearing into the weeds on the 16th hole, forcing him to hit another. He escaped with a bogey, then finished with a two-putt birdie on the 18th after hitting 4-iron from 275 yards away with the wind at his back. He was one shot back at 70.
"I'm glad to get in under par," Davis Love III said. "I don't think if we were on vacation we would have played today."
This is the first of 40 events to earn points in a season-long competition that will end at the Tour Championship, with $10 million going to winner of the FedExCup.
Stuart Appleby got off to a sluggish start in his bid to tie a PGA Tour record with his fourth straight victory at the same tournament. He had one birdie, one bogey and closed with 10 straight pars for an even-par 73.
Only a dozen players managed to break par.
In winning at Kapalua the last three years, Appleby has been a combined four shots better than Singh, who has not finished out of the top 10 in his last seven starts at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
"Golf doesn't owe you anything," Singh said about his close calls in this event. "If you start feeling that way, then you've got a problem. I've had great finishes over here. You can look at it that way. I'm looking forward to the next three days and see what happens."
Singh has slipped to No. 7 in the world after winning only one tournament in his last 35 starts on the PGA Tour. He figured out what was wrong with his swing late last year, spent the offseason fixing it, and is ready to get his game going in the right direction again.
"If you finish the season and then you try to figure out what happened, then you've got a problem," he said. "I knew what was going on, and it was important for me to fix it."
For the opening round of the year, it was important to hang on.
The Pacific Ocean below the Plantation course was speckled with white caps, and players at time struggled to walk uphill into the wind, with gusts up to 35 mph. They mentioned words like "survival" and "patience," usually associated with the middle of June.
Some fared better than others.
Dean Wilson, the first player from Hawaii to play the Mercedes-Benz Championship in the nine years it has been on Maui, became the first player of 2007 to post an 80. Former British Open champion Ben Curtis joined him a short time later at 81. Eric Axley waited until the 18th hole to make his first birdie of the year, giving him a 78.
Singh played with Curtis, and told them as they walked up the ninth fairway, "If we had to play golf in this weather, I think I'd quit."
Choi handled it beautifully, which is not terribly surprising because he holds the course record at Kapalua, an 11-under 62 in the third round of the 2003 tournament. MacKenzie kept his focus off the wind by watching the surfers below, wishing he could join them. Instead, he delivered the first eagle of the year by chipping in from 50 yards on the par-5 ninth.
The surprise might have been Ames.
He missed the last few months of the PGA Tour season with back problems, returning at the Skins Game and World Cup a month ago, and taking time off in Calgary without hardly touching a club. Plus, it doesn't sound like he takes this tournament too seriously.
"The last time we were here felt the same way," Ames said. "Golf kind of gets in the way of my vacation."
He kept waiting for his swing to break down, especially in the wind, but he held it together long enough to make birdie for the first time on a par 5 at the closing hole.
"Today was just patience," he said. "I didn't expect anything. I tried to keep my thoughts to a minimum."
And he wasn't thinking about the FedExCup until he walked off the green and dropped a ball into the cup.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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