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Lucas Glover leads with an opening round of 66

U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover played 26 tournaments last year and made only two eagles. It only took him nine holes in the new season to match that total, and the timing could not have been better.

The start of the season-opening SBS Championship was not something Glover envisioned. He hit a 3-wood so weakly that while most players had a wedge to the green, he was hitting 4-iron. And he didn’t hit that one very well, for it sailed to the right and disappeared into the native grasses, a simple recipe for a double bogey.

“I should have stayed home,” Glover said Thursday.

Good thing he was kidding, because he would have missed an amazing turnaround that featured two eagles and four straight birdies, a nine-hole stretch that he played in 9-under par and led him to a 7-under 66 and a one-shot lead.

“Any time you have a stretch like that, it gives you confidence because something is there,” Glover said.

His final birdie on the par-5 18th, pitching to within a foot of the cup, put him atop the leaderboard over Martin Laird, Nathan Green, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson.

British Open champion Stewart Cink and Masters champion Angel Cabrera were among those at 68. Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy had a late bogey for a 68.

With a 28-man field at Kapalua, it remained relatively tight from top-to-bottom.

Heath Slocum (75) and Mark Wilson (74) were the only players who failed to break par on a breezy day above the Pacific Ocean. Even so, a nine-shot difference between first and worst is unusual.

The first tournament of the year with such a small field usually brings a mixed bag of games. Some players are rusty, others still feel as though they’re on vacation with no cut and stunning beauty of Maui, and some can’t quite figure out how to handle a Plantation course carved out of a mountain that requires imagination to get the ball close on greens with such severe grain.

Glover has not been to Kapalua since 2006, when he won at Disney by holing a bunker shot on the last hole. His start that year didn’t inspire much confidence, either—bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey until he recovered with a 74.

This was different.

It started with a huge drive down the right side of the fifth fairway that left him only a 6-iron to the green, which he hit to 18 feet. Then came a 374-yard drive down the hill for a simple up-and-down for birdie, and he closed out his front nine with a 3-wood to about 30 feet on the par-5 ninth for yet another eagle.

“I’m pretty pleased, obviously, to make a couple of eagles and get the ball rolling,” he said.

Even better golf followed—four straight birdies, including a 35-footer across the 11th green. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of his round is how his brilliant stretch of golf ended. From the front of the par-4 14th green, he chipped weakly to 8 feet and missed the birdie putt, then missed a 3-foot birdie on the par-5 15th.

Think he was in any mood to complain?

“No big deal,” Glover said.

It still added to a 66, and Glover felt as though he played that well.

Otherwise, it was a typical start to another PGA Tour season, even as questions linger about Tiger Woods and when he will return from the crisis in his personal life that has put golf in the mainstream media for reasons few ever imagined.

Green felt particularly good after his worst shot of the day. He hit it left of the green on the par-3 eighth and tried to play it from the weeds, but the thick grass grabbed the hosel of the club and pulled it straight to the left. Green feared it was going to take the head off a woman, one of about 10 people in his gallery, but it hit her in the arm.

“I actually said, ‘Sorry,’ while the ball was still on the club face,” Green said.

From some 30 yards beyond the green, he chipped to 6 feet and got out with a bogey.

“That’s the stuff I wasn’t doing much at all last year,” Green said. “If I had a slightly good break like that, I wouldn’t make the most of it. I wouldn’t manage to get it up and down.”

He settled down after that with four birdies on the back nine.

Johnson had eight birdies to offset a few mistakes, which are expected this time of the year. Laird had the honor of hitting the opening tee shot of the 2010 season, and he split the middle of the fairway, which isn’t hard to do since it’s about 80 yards wide.

Watney played with Johnson, and both kept it pretty simple.

“It was just really—I hate saying it—an easy day out here,” Watney said.

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