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Funk's putter prowessearns clubhouse lead

©Associated Press

February 21, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- Fred Funk knows he doesn't have the same skills as Tiger Woods, though he wasn't about to trade scores Thursday in the Nissan Open.

Funk, one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, proved the shortest club in the bag can make all the difference. He had 11 one-putts and holed another from off the green for 6-under-par 65 and a three-stroke lead.

"I don't even pretend to have the game Tiger has," Funk said. "I've got to be doing a lot of things good and really putting to do well on a course like this."

Woods, coming off a strong victory last weekend in San Diego, hit the ball decently in the tough, blustery conditions at Riviera Country Club.

Toward the end, he was ready to either break his putter or wrap it around the neck of a fan whose cell phone rang.

"Turn off the (expletive) phone," Woods shouted after a three-putt bogey from 6 feet on No. 17. He finished 1-over 72, the first time he has failed to shoot par or better in the opening round at the Nissan Open.

"It was a long, tough day," Woods said later.

Indeed it was. The firm, fast conditions were made more difficult by strong gusts that swirled through the tree-lined fairways. Play was so slow it took more than five hours to complete 18 holes, and 15 players failed to finish before it got dark.

Jeff Sluman had the best round among the later starters at 3-under 68. That tied him with Steve Elkington, who won the '95 PGA Championship at Riviera, three-time major winner Nick Price and Cameron Beckman.

David Duval played with Woods and turned in 69, and clearly the most entertaining round of the day. On one hole, officials had to push a cart and a popcorn stand out of his way. At the end, his approach bounced off a tree and onto the green.

"It was fun for the whole family," Duval said.

Funk not only was hitting it short -- an average of 263.5 yards off the tee -- but at times he was crooked, hardly living up to his reputation as the straightest driver in golf.

No matter.

"The putter was really hot," said Funk, who had only 23 putts. "I didn't drive it particularly well, but over the first 11 holes, that's as good as I can putt."

Paul Azinger, who needs to play well the next month to qualify for the Masters, had two double bogeys and triple bogey for 83. Davis Love, playing for the first time since his victory at Pebble Beach two weeks ago, had 76.

MALAYSIAN OPEN: Fredrik Andersson and Arjun Atwal each shot 9-under 62 despite high heat and humidity to share the lead after the first round of the $1.1-million European PGA/Asian PGA Tour event in Kuala Lumpur.

ANZ LADIES MASTERS: Patricia Meunier Lebouc shot 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Australian/European Ladies Tour event in Gold Coast, Australia. Laura Davies and Michelle Ellis were tied for second.

YOUNG GOLFER: Michelle Wie, 13, has accepted invitations to play in two more LPGA Tour events, giving her six this season, the maximum allowed under a rule implemented this season. The eighth-grader from Honolulu accepted exemptions to the Safeway Classic in September and the Sports Today CJ Nine Bridges Classic in October, her family said.

Wie also plans to play in the U.S. Women's Public Links Amateur and the qualifying tournaments for the U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Girls Junior and the U.S. Women's Amateur.

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