Sutton succeeds as winds knock Woods off stride

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The Independent Online

With strong gusting winds making conditions extremely hazardous in the first round of the US Players Championship, this was not a day to apply the Montgomerie rule. The Scot suggested there are occasions when Tiger Woods has a tournament wrapped up after one round but the world No 1 dispelled the notion at the notorious 17th at the TPC of Sawgrass's Stadium Course.

Woods was tied for the lead at three under par when he found the water at the par-three and took a double-bogey five. The slip meant Woods fell back to one under par and has still to break 70 on a course where he claimed the US Amateur crown in 1994.

"Under these conditions, it was no big deal to make a double there," Woods said. "Anything in the red is good today. That's why I was not upset at all."

The early lead was held by Hal Sutton on 69. The Players champion in 1983, when the tournament was played here for only the second time, Sutton hates to hear players praising Woods to the skies. "I don't like to think that way," Sutton said. "The guy plays great but that doesn't mean he can't be beaten."

Woods likened the conditions to any of the major championships and if a determined character is required it was no surprise to see Bernhard Langer on the leaderboard. The German, in a group on two under, only played six holes in practice as his wife, Vikki, gave birth to their fourth child, Jason, on Monday in Orlando.

"Everyone is healthy," Langer said. "I brought them home from the hospital on Wednesday morning and then drove up here. The preparation is very short but I am usually pretty focused in everything I do."

Darren Clarke, continuing to bathe in the glory of his defeat of Woods at the World Matchplay in San Diego, was more than happy with his 72. "Par today must be 74," said the Irishman. "I was not swinging at 100 per cent but I ground it out."

Clarke had just two birdies, only from the fringe at the sixth, but more importantly also limited the errors. He had 14 pars to suggest the confidence he gained from winning at La Costa has helped his mental game. "If I can shoot 72 around here on a day like this, then I must be improving," he said. "My game was probably 6.5 out of 10 but my head was 9.5. That's a pleasant change. It's usually the other way round."

It is also more usual for Clarke to struggle at Sawgrass while Westwood has finished fifth and sixth in the last two years. But the Englishman, starting at the 10th, went to the turn in 41 and his 77 was Westwood's worst score here in nine rounds. "I was fine tee-to-green," said Westwood, who is now working with David Leadbetter. "But my putting was diabolical."

The only course that ranked harder than the TPC of Sawgrass on the US Tour last year was Carnoustie. There Sergio Garcia opened with an 89. On his debut in the Players, the 20-year-old suffered another bad day with a 10-over par 82. If it was his misfortune only to have seen course in calm conditions in practice, neither did he play well. There were three birdies and five pars, but only one of those came on the back nine, which he played first after starting at the 10th.

It was the stretch from the 16th to the 18th that completely undid Garcia with sixes at each hole. He found the water with his second shot at the par-five 16th, missed the island green of the short 17th with a wedge before three-putting with his second ball for a triple bogey and found sand at the 18th before again three-putting.

"I didn't know how many of the holes played in these conditions but anyway I did not play very well," Garcia admitted. He has yet to find any rhythm this year or recapture the spark of his debut season and received a reassuring pat on the back from his caddie, Fanny Sunesson. "I will keep working with my dad," Garcia said. "We just need one good tournament to start going but it looks like it is taking time."

All the spills - it was not a day for thrills - at the 17th, the TPC's signature hole, were webcast live on the internet. They included John Daly hitting two tee shots into the lake for a triple-bogey six. Daly, who closed with an 87 at Bay Hill, played the back nine in 41 but played the other nine in level figures. Asked recently where he saw himself in five years' time, Daly replied: "Hopefully out of debt."

Ticket prices for next year's Ryder Cup have been announced with a season ticket costing £200, an increase of £50 on Valderrama in 1997 and double the cost when the match was last played at The Belfry in 1993.

But, contrary to previous suggestions, daily tickets will also be available, ranging from £25 for the opening practice days to £60 for the first two days of competition and £80 for the final day's singles. Applications need to be returned in time for a ballot at the end of June.

Early first round scores 69 H Sutton; 70 K Perry, L Mattiace, N Ozaki (Jap), B Mayfair, B Langer (Ger), L Janzen; 71 G Chalmers (Aus), T Woods, T Lehman, J Leonard; 72 S Ames (Tri), D Clarke (GB), S Appleby (Aus), C Pavin; 73 C Riley, JP Hayes, E Els (SA); 74 B Glasson, J Cook;