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Pebble Beach plays trick on field

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2003

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Kevin Sutherland stepped outside and took a deep breath, soaking in the bright sunshine and calm air.

"Sure doesn't seem like we're at Pebble Beach, does it?" he asked.

Not only was the California native on top of his game Thursday, he was at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on one of the most unexpectedly gorgeous days in the PGA tournament's recent history.

Sutherland shot 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over Mike Weir and Robert Gamez.

Golfers expect weather trouble on the Monterey Peninsula, so the perfect conditions were both a treat and a challenge. Sutherland and a few others managed the fast fairways and hard greens resulting from the absence of recent rain at the tournament's three courses.

"I've never seen the course as hard and as fast as this," said Sutherland, who had five birdies on the front nine at Pebble Beach Golf Links. "The fairways are really hard. The balls are going a tremendous distance. I'm in places I've never been before."

Weir, winner Sunday of the Bob Hope Classic, shot a steady 67 on Spyglass Hill, generally considered the toughest of the three Monterey Peninsula courses. Playing with fellow Canadian and hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Weir capped a bogey-free round with birdies on the final two holes.

Gamez, who started on No. 10 at Poppy Hills, had a tumultuous back nine. After birdie on 15 and bogey on 16, he aced the 163-yard 17th -- the first hole-in-one of his PGA career -- and eagled the 500-yard 18th.

Gamez's ace was a seven-iron shot that rolled in from 5 feet.

Tom Lehman led nine golfers at 4 under, and Fred Couples and 2002 runner-up Pat Perez were among eight three strokes back.

WOODS READY: Tiger Woods, who spent the last two months recovering from knee surgery, will end the longest layoff of his career next week when he returns to the PGA Tour in San Diego.

"Things are progressing nicely, and I will officially enter the Buick Invitational on Thursday," Woods said on his Web site.

He played 18 holes for the first time Tuesday and shot 66 at Orlando's Golden Bear Club at Keene's Pointe.

"The real test comes next week at Torrey Pines," he said. "That's when I will find out how the knee holds up in competition and what, if any, effect walking the course has on it."

Plus, he will have a chance to visit with Phil Mickelson, who caused a buzz this week by saying Woods has "inferior" clubs and is the only player "good enough to overcome the equipment he's stuck with."

Mickelson later said his comments to Golf Magazine were taken out of context and that he meant to explain Woods' talent.

"I heard it was said in fun and jest, but until I talk to him, I really don't know," Woods said. "Quite frankly, questioning my equipment is foolish. I'm not going to play with anything that is going to hold me back. My career will be judged on how much I've won."

ANZ CHAMPIONSHIP: Australia's Peter Fowler scored 17 points under the modified Stableford format to take a one-point lead over countryman Stuart Appleby in Sydney.

Fowler had nine birdies and a bogey at the New South Wales Golf Club. Players get eight points for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-one for bogey and minus-three for double bogey or higher.

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