Pavin back on route 66

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The Independent Online
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

In 1983, Corey Pavin, just turned 24, drove to the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass for the first time. The occasion was the PGA Tour's qualifying school, and though he shot a final-round 66 and ended up tied for seventh, it took Pavin many years to shake the feelings of sick tension and nerves when he came here for the TPC. It took him 12 years before he could shoot another 66 on this course.

In strong winds, and with hard and slick greens that were suited only for calm conditions, Pavin shot another 66 at Sawgrass, a six-under-par score that gave him the lead in the first round of the Players Championship.

Pavin's score was one stroke ahead of his fellow American, Gene Sauers, with the former major winners Payne Stewart and Larry Mize in third place at 69.

Pavin, one of the best putters in the world, had seven birdies and a bogey in his round, sinking three putts of 12 feet and three more of 20 feet or more, a putting round that almost anyone else would describe with a stronger word than "pleasing".

Pavin illustrated the difficulty of the combination of wind and hard greens, noting that a nine-iron hit downwind to a green might count on 30 feet of release. "It's very hard to hit shots into the greens," Pavin said. "This is really going to keep the scores high."

The first round this year at the Players was in stark contrast to last year's record-breaker, where Greg Norman opened with a 63, a record score that was just good enough for a two-stroke lead over three other players.

One of those three at 65 last year was Colin Montgomerie, who had a very different round this year. Montgomerie shot a 79 yesterday. His card included three bogeys, three double-bogeys and two birdies.

"I hit the ball great. I just hit the ball too far on certain holes, which you cannot do on a golf course this severe," Montgomerie said. "It's very disappointing to come to a $3m [£1.94m] tournament and shoot 79."

With the exception of Bernhard Langer, who was four under par after a birdie at the 16th, it was not a good day for the Europeans in general. Both Scots, Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle, shot 79s, the Masters winner Jose- Maria Olazabal a 78 and Seve Ballesteros a 75. Ian Woosnam, who was at one point three under par, finished at 74. Nick Faldo, who drew the second to last pairing, and thus the worst of the weather, was three over par through 15 holes.

PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla) Early first-round scores (US unless stated): 66 C Pavin. 67 G Sauers. 69 P Stewart, L Mize, S Stricker, L Janzen. 70 G Norman (Aus). 71 D Weibring, B Mayfair, M McCumber, J Cook, S Simpson, K Triplett, L Clements. 72 C Beck, H Sutton, F Zoeller, D Pohl, M Sullivan, D Pruitt, M Ozaki (Japan), B Bryant. 73 D Feherty (N Irl), N Price (Zim), D Hammond, J Leonard, L Roberts, J McGovern, F Funk, B Faxon, C Byrum, D Barr (Can), W Levi, H Irwin, B Gilder, C Stadler. Selected: 74 J Parnevik (Swe), I Woosnam (Wal). 75 S Ballesteros (Sp). 78 J-M Olazabal (Sp). 79 C Montgomerie (Sco), S Lyle (Sco).