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Kapalua Crusher

Robert Garrigus blisters the plantation course with a 63 to take a one-stroke lead at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions

By Ann Miller

POSTED:


Kapalua, Maui » Anything goes at suddenly serene Kapalua, and for the first two days of the PGA Tour season almost everything is going in.

Robert Garrigus, the golfer with huge drives and a tiny putter, soared into first at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions yesterday. He fired a 10-under-par 63 -- one off K.J. Choi's course record -- in perfect conditions at the Plantation Course.

At 14-under 132, Garrigus leads Carl Pettersson (67) by one shot. Pettersson eagled the first par 5 on the front nine -- his ball stopping 2 feet from double-eagle -- and bogeyed the last before firing four birdies on the back. Jonathan Byrd, who shared the first-round lead with Pettersson, is another shot back.

LEADERBOARD

At Kapalua Plantation Course
Par 73

Robert Garrigus 63 -- 132
Carl Pettersson 67 -- 133
Jonathan Byrd 68 -- 134
Ernie Els 64 -- 136
Steve Stricker 67 -- 136
Francesco Molinari 67 -- 136
Jim Furyk 68 -- 136
Dustin Johnson 66 -- 137
Ben Crane 70 -- 137
Francesco Molinari, an Italian who won a World Golf Championship in Shanghai last year and is ranked 16th in the world, joined a glut of golfers with history in Hawaii at 10-under.

One is Ernie Els, who shot 64 with 29 putts. Els set the tournament record of 31 under here in 2003 and has five other top-10 finishes, along with two Sony Open in Hawaii titles. He will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May.

Last month, he went home to win his fifth South African Open, discovering his putting touch on "ridiculously terrible greens ... worse than these fairways." He bogeyed the first two holes of 2011 Thursday and three-putted the last, then put in some time on the practice green to bring his touch back.

Steve Stricker has finished top 10 here the past two years, and won more than $2 million at Sony the last several. He has one bogey going into the weekend.

Player of the Year Jim Furyk, whose win here in 2001 is the last by an American, is looking for his eighth top 10 at Kapalua. He got to 10-under on the 12th hole yesterday and parred in.

That put you in reverse the past two days at Plantation, where Furyk admitted the conditions were "a free ticket to fire at the pin."

Did they ever. Thursday, the average score was 3 under and Els' round of 72 beat just five guys. Yesterday eagles soared and birdies landed in bulk as the average dropped another shot.

Dustin Johnson one-putted five straight holes for birdie and reached 10 under before blocking his tee shot at the 14th "just a smidge." He couldn't find the ball, took his second double-bogey of the tournament, and is tied with Ben Crane for eighth.

Pettersson was alone in first after four straight birdies.

But it was Garrigus who closed fastest Friday. He eagled the 16th from 66 yards out, then sank a 7-footer for birdie on the next hole and closed with a 2-putt birdie after a 394-yard drive.

He led the tour in driving the past two years, but never won until former Champions Tour player Jim Ahern asked him why not last November at the Children's Miracle Network Classic.

"I said, 'Because my wedge game sucks,' " Garrigus recalled.

They got together and worked on it. Garrigus won that week, a year after he missed the cut at the same event and had to return to Q-School. Since Thanksgiving, he has hit three bags of balls a day inside 100 yards.

Sergio Garcia and Daniel Chopra are the only golfers to win at Kapalua in their first appearances. Garrigus is threatening to become the third.

"It's really easy," he grinned, "when you have 10 putts inside a foot."

He has missed just one green in regulation at Kapalua and yesterday hit three wedge shots that nearly went in and a fourth that did for his eagle. He had four consecutive birdies on the front nine and no putt was longer than 5 feet.

Garrigus jokes that he is sponsored by U.S. Kids Golf because of his 28 1/2 -inch putter, which he treasures. But he has hardly needed it thanks to his huge drives and brilliant wedge play.

"I feel pretty confident about being out here, I'm enjoying it," Garrigus said. "I'm having fun, first tournament of the year. There's really not any pressure. I told everybody I'm not going to really be nervous unless I'm in the last group, but here we go. It's going to be a lot of fun."

In June, Garrigus triple-bogeyed the final hole and lost in a playoff at the St. Jude Classic. Clearly he has overcome that, among other things. Thursday on the Golf Channel he spoke of going to rehab in 2003 for substance abuse problems, then turning his life around. Yesterday, he followed it up by calling the St. Jude nightmare "nothing compared to changing my life."

The 33-year-old who grew up in Oregon is loving life.

"I can't wait for the next couple days, regardless of what happens," Garrigus said. "I'm going to make a check and I'm going to watch the Ducks win the national championship. I can't wait."






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