Jose Maria Olazabal hopes he is running into form just in time for his attempt to win the Masters for a third time. But the 38-year-old was not taking anything for granted after a 65 gave him a share of the first-round lead in the BellSouth Classic here.
In 155th place on this season's American money list, Olazabal said: "I haven't followed one good round with another - it's been a struggle all year. This course is a good tune-up for next week, but I'm not concerned about next week. This is enough of a task."
It was windy all day Thursday and for the early starters it was freezing as well. Olazabal teed off at 7.27am. Alongside him was the Australian Adam Scott, and being paired with last week's winner of the Players' Championship worked well for the Spaniard.
"He's the star of the moment and somehow you feed from players that hit the ball well," the Spaniard said. "I have to say my iron play was excellent. Most of the year they have been awful, but I hit a lot of solid shots." Five of his seven birdies were with putts of three feet or less.
Olazabal, who missed the cut by four last week, shares the top spot with the Californian Roger Tambellini, a 29-year-old US Tour rookie who, like Scott, finished behind Michelle Wie at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January.
Padraig Harrington, the runner-up to Scott, will be hoping a later start today enables him to get his brain in gear better than he did in his opening 70.
On Sunday, Harrington played his last 12 holes in eight under par but on Thursday he was not in the same form as he hit 70.
"I didn't have the same adrenalin and was a little bit flat," he said. "I struggled to focus and did some silly stuff. I just wasn't sharp."
The Sugarloaf course is only an hour's flight from Sawgrass, but the weather is different.
"I brought a woolly hat," Harrington said. "But somehow it was not to be found. I looked in the car and I was hoping Dave [his caddie Dave McNeilly] had put it somewhere, but no."
He still fared better than the other three Masters-bound Europeans in the field. Paul Lawrie had a 74 and both Phillip Price and Thomas Bjorn handed in 77s.
Bellsouth Classic (Atlanta) Leading first-round scores (US unless stated): 65 R Tambellini, J M Olazabal (Sp). 66 C Bowden. 67 T Petrovic, S Micheel. 68 B Mayfair, B Crane, A Scott (Aus), B Gay, R Sabbatini (SA), S Simpson. 69 Z Johnson, P Mickelson, R Beem, B Kortan. 70 J Ogilvie, S Elkington (Aus), S McRoy, C Smith, P Harrington (Irl), D Briggs, JJ Henry, J Huston, N Lancaster, C Kresge, G Hnatiuk (Can), H Miyase (Japan). Selected: 72 L Donald (GB). 73 P Azinger, G Norman (Aus), M Weir (Can). 74 P Lawrie (GB).
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