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Week after keeping Tour card, Stadler tied for lead in China

11/8/2007 - Golf Kevin Stadler

SHANGHAI, China -- Kevin Stadler is feeling better these days.
For proof, look at his 8-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead
after Thursday's first round of the HSBC Champions tournament.


A few days ago and half a world away, Stadler salvaged his Tour
card for next season. He needed to finish in the top 125 on the
money list. He did, scraping by at No. 124 with a strong finish
Sunday in the Children's Miracle Network Classic in Orlando -- the
last event of the PGA Tour's season.


"Sunday was a long day, a stressful day," said Stadler, who
shared the lead with Niclas Fasth of Sweden. They both matched the
course record at the Sheshan Golf Club, an American-style layout on
the edge of Shanghai, graced by a clubhouse and surrounding estate
built to resemble an Italian villa.


"I pretty much just went straight from the golf course to the
airport to come over here," Stadler said. "It's just been a long
few days. It was a long flight to begin with, and it would have
been longer if I hadn't kept my card."


Stadler and Fasth were three shots ahead of Vijay Singh, and
four clear of eight players at 68, including Phil Mickelson,
British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey.


The tournament purse of $5 million is the largest in Asia.
Although this and other inducements were not enough to draw Tiger Woods -- he played a year ago, failing to win -- it has attracted 10
of the world's top 20 players.


Stadler thrived without the stress.


"It was great to come here and play a worry-free tournament,"
Stadler said. "I haven't had many of them in the last month or
two. I was right on the bubble pretty much for the last six
weeks."


"I was trying not to let it bother me," he added. "But it was
pretty apparent I was a little on edge because I felt great today
being through with all of that."


The son of former Masters champion Craig Stadler -- known as
"The Walrus" -- the younger Stadler is large like his dad and has
a neat mustache and goatee. But he's never picked up a nickname
like, perhaps, "Baby Walrus."


"No, that doesn't work very well, thankfully," Stadler said.
"I've avoided that for most of my life. I'd love to keep it that
way."


Stadler had six birdies on the front nine -- three straight to
open the round.


"Absolutely, it was a great start," he said.


He dropped one shot on the back nine, a bogey on No. 11 that
came after his drive landed in a bunker. A bad lie forced him to
chip out sideways, settling for "an easy five."


The 64s matched the course record, which was also recorded by
Woods, Henrik Stenson and Michael Campbell.


Fasth also got off to a great start, dropping a 12-foot birdie
putt on the first hole, then added an eagle-3 on No. 2, where he
sank a 25-foot putt after landing a 5-wood on the back of the
green.


"It was a perfect start for me," Fasth said. "To be 3-under
after two holes, it's not every day you get that. And I just kept
playing on."


Without Woods, most of the attention turned to second-ranked
Mickelson.


Mickelson birdied three of the first four holes and then played
steady, mostly error-free golf. Afterward, he patiently signed
autographs and seemed happy to have made the Asian swing.


"I just kind of played solid after that," Mickelson said. "It
shows there's some low scores out there, but I feel like I played
pretty good to get to 4-under."


Mickelson is playing his second straight event in Asia, and his
first in China. He finished in a disappointing tie for 23rd place
last weekend in the Singapore Open, 16 shots behind winner Angel
Cabrera.


Mickelson, who heads home after this event, blamed his poor
finish in Singapore on "a bit of a virus" over the weekend, which
was made worse by the tropical heat in Singapore. He said this week
he's "nearly 100 percent."


"I want to spend more time in Asia," Mickelson said. "I feel
like I'm learning a lot. My kids are with me and they're learning a
lot, too. The quality of golf course here is every bit as good as
the States."


Mickelson played with China's best player Liang Wenchong. Liang
shot 69 and impressed the two-time Masters champion.


"I was very pleased with Liang, he's a wonderful player,"
Mickelson said. "I think he's got some great things to come."


Though it's still 2007, the HSBC event is also the first of the
2008 PGA European Tour season, which has become a 12-month season
without a break.


"This is the best scenario we can have on the European Tour to
get these tournaments in where there is room on the schedule,"
Fasth said.