Friday, March 21, 2003

Tiger's spot not affected by mediocrity

At Bay Hill, Woods 1 stroke off six leaders

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. - A score that would have left Tiger Woods in the middle of the pack at most PGA Tour events kept him in contention Thursday as he bids for his fourth straight title at the Bay Hill Invitational.

Six players were tied for the lead at 3-under 69, the highest score in relation to par for an 18-hole lead since Woods shot 3 under in the U.S. Open last year at Bethpage Black. Woods was one stroke back.

Indeed, Bay Hill proved to be a major test with its swirling winds, stifling heat and greens as hard as concrete.

"If these greens get baked out, if this wind stays up, it could be one of the tougher golf courses we'll face, except for the majors," Woods said after birdies on two of the last three holes.

The leaders were Stewart Cink, Jeff Maggert, Jonathan Kaye, J.L. Lewis, Aaron Baddeley and Trevor Immelman, a 23-year-old South African who was the only afternoon starter to break 70.

"This golf course doesn't let up, which is good," Baddeley said. "You're going to find out who's playing the best this week."

Ernie Els might have been closer to the lead if not for one hole. He three-putted from 4 feet on the par-3 14th and took triple bogey, giving him a 74.

Bay Hill was too much for Arnold Palmer, the 73-year-old tournament host playing in what probably will be his final PGA Tour event.

The King had a 15-over 87, his worst round ever at Bay Hill.

LPGA SAFEWAY PING: Annika Sorenstam wanted to play with the men so she could raise the level of her game. She may need to, if her start to the LPGA season is any indication.

Sorenstam opened her year with a solid 5-under 67, only to find herself trailing would-be rivals Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb after the first round of the Safeway Ping tournament in Phoenix, Ariz.

Pak shot a 7-under 65 while Webb bogeyed her final hole for a 66, both serving early notice to Sorenstam that she might have trouble winning 11 times on the LPGA Tour again this year.

"They're all chasing who's on top," Sorenstam said.

Pak acknowledged as much, following an opening round in which she made eight birdies against a lone bogey under perfect scoring conditions at the Moon Valley Country Club.

MADEIRA OPEN: Spain's Jesus Maria Arruti shot a 6-under-par 66 and led the rain-delayed Madeira Island Open by one stroke. Half the field was unable to complete the first round.

Robert-Jan Derksen of the Netherlands was in second place. Sharing third at 68 were Julien Van Hauwe of France, Julien Clement of Switzerland and Andrew Sherborne of England.

MATCH PLAY PURSE GETS BIGGER: The World Match Play Championship will offer the second-richest prize in golf, increasing its winner's share to $1.56 million.

Total prize money for the 12-player tournament scheduled for mid-October at Wentworth will be $3.588 million, organizers said.

The increase was announced as part of a 10-year sponsorship deal with HSBC.

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Tiger's spot not affected by mediocrity

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