Mercedes Championship
Mercedes Championship
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Four tied for lead after calm day at Kapalua

KA LUA, Hawaii (January 7, 1999) Joe Durant has never played at Kapalua. Fred Funk has never played it very well. Without the typically fierce trade winds blowing off the northeast coast of Maui, that didn't seem to matter today in the Mercedes Championships.

The Plantation Course became a scenic stroll in the first round of the PGA Tour season, leaving Durant, Funk, Steve Pate and Billy Mayfair atop the leaderboard at 7-under-par 66 and a bunch of others right behind.

"This course played strange without the wind,'' said Pate, who lost in a playoff in the unofficial Kapalua International in 1989. "Dead calm and the course in good shape? You can go ahead and make some birdies.

"Obviously, I wasn't the only one who did.''

Only three of the 30 players in the winners-only field failed to break par on a resort course with generous fairways and equally spacious greens, although trouble was waiting if the ball was on the wrong side of the hole.

David Duval, a four-time winner in 1998 playing like he still wants to state his case for player of the year, finished strongly on the back nine and was in the group at 6-under 67 that also included Billy Andrade.

Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard were among those at 68, while Tiger Woods had a wild round on a calm day and finished with a 69, along with Davis Love III and Fred Couples. Love and Couples have each won twice at Kapalua.

Mark O'Meara had a 69. Defending champion Phil Mickelson, who rarely plays in Hawaii, had a 1-under 72.

The first PGA Tour event televised live in prime time showed the stunning beauty of Kapalua, wayward shots to be expected in the first tournament of the year and enough long putts to keep it interesting.

Pate was as surprised as anyone to be in the lead, especially when he stood over a 70-foot birdie putt on the 17th and watched it fall for birdie.

"I knew it was going to be close,'' he said. "I was kind of shocked when it went in.''

Even more shocking was his first hole of the new season. He debated over club selection with his caddie, insisted on a 3-iron but mistakenly pulled the 2-iron from his bag and saw it roll through the green onto the fringe.

No problem. He rolled in a 45-footer for birdie and was off to the races.

"Great start to the year,'' he said.

Durant may not have much experience on the Plantation Course. Thank goodness he had Lee Janzen.

"There were several times where we had similar lines on putts,'' Durant said. "He gave me great reads.''

One of those was on the 203-yard eighth hole, when Durant left his 6-iron 50 feet short of the hole with a huge hump in between and the green sloping hard to the left. After watching Janzen miss his putt way left, Durant played twice as much break and made it.

"I thanked him for that,'' Durant said. "I fixed his ball marks the rest of the day.''

Woods had a first round that summed up his 1998 season -- lots of opportunities, not much to show for it.

He three-putted from about 20 feet on the first hole, then responded with a 60-foot birdie putt on the next hole. He drove the 305-yard, par-4 14th but three-putted from the fringe for par, missed one green by about 60 yards to the right for bogey and then two-putted for birdie from about 8 feet on the par-5 last hole.

"You're more nervous over some putts from 4 feet than you are over others from 60 feet,'' Woods said about the Plantation Course greens.

The Mercedes moved this year from La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., which will get the Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship next month, to the Kapalua Resort renowned for winds that turn club selection into guesswork and keep scores from getting very low.

"When you don't have the trades, I think it brings everybody in a little bit and becomes more of a putting match,'' Andrade said. "It's kind of cool when the winds are whipping. Makes it kind of interesting.''

The chances of three more rounds of relative calm are slim. A storm system was due to arrive Friday morning, and tournament officials decided to move up the start of the second round by two hours to avoid it.