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Sutton's 64 Leads Honda Classic


The 40-foot-putt on hole No. 2 died at the edge of the cup, then fell in. It was barely 8:30 a.m. on the opening day of the Honda Classic, and Hal Sutton sensed an omen.

"It's been a long time since I've seen one of my putts lip in," Sutton told his caddy. "That may be a good sign."

Things have actually been falling Sutton's way for the past six months, and he tied a course record Thursday with an 8-under-par 64 to lead the Honda by one shot.

[Sutton]
Sutton's 64 matched his low round of 1998. (AP)

Last year Sutton had his best results on the PGA Tour since 1983, winning the Tour Championship, the Westin Texas Open and $1.8 million, fifth on the money list. There were more achievements in January: He finished fourth at the Phoenix Open and became the father of twin girls.

"This is without a doubt the happiest time of my life," Sutton said. "I look forward to getting up every day."

He'll start Friday's play in the lead. Rookie Eric Booker shot an opening 65, Doug Barron was at 66, and Dicky Pride and Bradley Hughes shot 67. Nine golfers, including 1998 player of the year Mark O'Meara, were at 68.

Lorne Rubenstein:
Not a walk in the park
Interviews:
Hal Sutton
Grant Waite
Doug Barron
Mark Calcavecchia
Sutton became the fourth player to shoot 64 since the tournament moved to the TPC at Heron Bay two years ago. Craig Parry and Tommy Armour II set the course record in 1997 and John Daly tied it last year.

At age 40, Sutton is playing his best golf since 1983. Once acclaimed as the next Jack Nicklaus because he was a young blond prodigy, Sutton won the U.S. Amateur in 1980 and the PGA Championship in 1983, when he finished first on the money list.

The native of Shreveport, La., won seven tournaments from 1982 to 1986 before his slump began.

"I'd like to lay it off on injuries, mostly injuries in the head," he said with a wink. "It was a lack of confidence and too many swing changes that weren't working."

Sutton hit bottom in 1992, when he had no top 10 finishes and missed the cut in 21 of 29 tournaments.

"I didn't know if there could be a fairway wide enough for me at the time," he said.

[Booker]
Booker was in one of the last groups of the day, but managed to shoot 65. (AP)

"Many nights I went back to my room and felt like I was the only person on the planet that was having problems. Everybody wants to be your buddy when you're playing good, but boy, it gets pretty darn lonely when things aren't going good around here."

With little wind and lots of sunshine Thursday, Sutton's 40-foot putt provided all the momentum he needed. He made four birdie putts of 10 to 15 feet, birdied two par-5s from a bunker and birdied his last three holes.

"Early in my career, I didn't know how good I was," Sutton said. "Then I went through a lot of lean years there when I didn't play well. I didn't know if I was ever going to get out of it or not -- that's how poorly I was playing."

"Now, when you're playing well, you certainly can appreciate it a lot more."

Divots:

  • Critics say Heron Bay is a bland course, and Barron struggled with the details when discussing his round of 66. "I can't remember all these holes," he said with a laugh. "They all look alike."
  • Barron, Booker and Hughes are seeking their first tour victories.
  • A week after the Doral-Ryder Open, which drew an unusually weak field, only six of the world's top 20 golfers are entered.
  • Jesper Parnevik withdrew because of a fever.
  • Payne Stewart, who shot 70, has finished second in the Honda four times.
  • Defending champion Mark Calcavecchia shot 71.

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