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Tpc Leaderboard Packed After Opener

Fri., March 28, 1997

The snarl at the top of the leaderboard at The Players Championship was as thick as the tangled rough on the Stadium Course at the TPC.

Steve Elkington played a near-perfect round - marred only by a watery double bogey - and shot a 6-under-par 66 for a one-stroke lead after Thursday’s first round at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. But he had a dozen-and-a-half others shooting in the 60s and breathing down his neck.

“I had one bad hole,” Elkington said after hitting 12 of 14 fairways on the day. “I hit it into the water in No. 18,” when he pulled his 2-iron second shot from 220 yards into the hazard left of the green.

With all the top-50 players in the world in the field chasing the $630,000 first prize - and with the Masters only two weeks away - it was perhaps no surprise that the field was so bunched up.

British Open champion Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia, Fuzzy Zoeller, David Edwards and Russ Cochran were one stroke back at 67.

Ten other players - including Ernie Els - were two strokes back at 68 as 19 players shot in the 60s and 57 scores were under par.

With the course playing soft and slow and the rough deep and thick, a premium was put on hitting fairways.

“Two of the three times I missed the fairways, I hit sand wedge and could only move it 60 yards,” Greg Norman said after shooting a 71. “That tells you how thick it is.”

But with the course so soft, putting the ball in play made every hole a birdie possibility.

“You can really take advantage of the good conditions if you hit the fairway,” Lehman said about the soft landing areas, receptive greens and gentle wind. “And I drove the ball very well,” he said after also hitting 12 of 14 fairways.

Tiger Woods, Masters champion Nick Faldo, and defending champion Fred Couples shot 71, along with Norman.

While the heavy rain of the last week softened the course and made it play easier, it also sprouted the rough into a bogey-making mess.

“I have never seen it this thick or high,” Calcavecchia said after he played the final eight holes without a par, making four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. “I think this is by far the worst rough I have ever seen here.”

Two lead Dinah

Kris Tschetter and Kathryn Marshall, each looking for a second career LPGA victory, matched 6-under-par 66s to share the opening-round lead in the Nabisco Dinah Shore at Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Tschetter, whose only win came five years ago, sank a couple of long putts, including a 20-footer on her second hole of the day, en route to a bogey-free round in the LPGA’s first major championship of the year.

Marshall, whose lone title came in the 1995 Toledo Classic, began her day at Mission Hills Country Club by missing the first green and carding a bogey. But she quickly settled down, birdied the next two holes, and went on to make five more birdie putts before she was through.

A group of four players - Sherri Steinhauer, Dale Eggeling, Deb Richard and Jane Geddes - were two shots behind the co-leaders at 68.

Clarkson’s Robin Walton shot a 1-over-par 73 to finish seven shots back. Tracy Hanson of Rathdrum, Idaho, was another three shots back at 76.

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