Golf: Stewart sets the pace

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The Independent Online
IN THE last five tournaments he has played at the Harbour Town Golf Links, Payne Stewart has finished out of the top four only once. He has won twice and lost in a play-off once.

After returning a first round of 65 to lead the Heritage Classic yesterday Stewart explained the inevitability of his score. 'I know that I will be somewhere on the leaderboard, whether at the top or a little further down, all week long - I'm that confident about my game right now.'

Stewart made just one mistake in the round, but escaped with a par when he sank a 25-foot putt.

The Masters champion, Bernhard Langer, was four shots off the lead after a two-under-par round of 69. Langer had three birdies and a bogey in his round, and admitted that he had struggled on the greens.

'I'm having some difficulty reading these greens,' he said. 'They should be fairly easy to putt, there's hardly any slope and they are slower than Augusta, but maybe I'm not fully adjusted yet from the Masters.'

Langer won here in 1985 and finished third in his last appearance in 1989, but Sandy Lyle has never been able to cope with the demands of the course. Yesterday he scored 77, and was already trying to figure out how to fill his time this weekend.

'The damage has been done,' he said. 'Not much I can do to bring it back. I've never mastered this course, though I should be able to play it. It made me look like an idiot today.'

Lyle had just one birdie, sinking a 12-foot putt on the third hole. He had five bogeys, all but one the result of iron shots missing the tiny greens, and had a double-bogey on the sixth when he went from the trees to the bushes, hacked out left-handed, and then left a bunker shot 30 feet from the hole.

HERITAGE CLASSIC (Hilton Head Island) Early leading first-round scores (US unless stated): 65 P Stewart. 66 R Mediate, M Standly, L Wadkins, D Pruitt. 67 C Pavin, D Frost (SA). 68 D Love III, S Hoch, N Henke, D Edwards, J Sluman, I Baker-Finch (Aus), H Irwin, T Simpson, B Estes, M McCumber, D Pooley. 69 B Langer (Ger), M O'Meara, C Stadler, C Perry, D Forsman, M Sullivan, D Tewell, B Lohr. Selected: 77 S Lyle (GB).