CARLSBAD — Blaine McCallister spent most of last month on his 19,000-acre ranch in South Texas. He said he hunted deer, doves, quail, turkeys and hogs and didn't give much thought to golf.
So, McCallister was "as surprised as anyone" to be the opening-round leader Thursday in the Infiniti Tournament of Champions at La Costa.
He shot a seven-under-par 65 in a bogey-free round with seven birdies.
"It's a heck of a way to start '92. I didn't expect to knock the rust off this early," said McCallister, who plays right-handed and putts left-handed.
McCallister has a one-stroke lead over Tom Purtzer and is two shots ahead of Paul Azinger.
"A key to any good round is getting it up and down, and I did that today," McCallister said. "I was in four bunkers and got it up and down every time, and that's not one of my strong points."
McCallister, 33, who qualified for the tournament by winning the Texas Open, hadn't played a round since early December when he competed in the Argentine Open.
"Not playing golf in the off-season gives me a chance to relax, regroup and feel fresh and be ready to go in January," McCallister said. "I reward myself in the off-season by hunting and fishing."
In 1990, McCallister was weakened for almost four months by mononucleosis. Now he watches his diet, avoids alcohol and gets plenty of rest.
Purtzer, who shot a 66, said he wasn't expecting to play as well as he did.
His swing was voted the best on the PGA Tour in a magazine survey of his peers. That swing was working smoothly Thursday when he had a round of seven birdies and one bogey.
The swing was not all that productive for Purtzer, 40, earlier in his career. He had only three tour victories in 15 years until last year, when he won twice. He finished fourth on the money list in 1991, earning $750,568.
"I didn't play with a lot of self-confidence (early in my career)," Purtzer said, "and it didn't take a whole lot to get it or lose it. My attitude now is much better than it used to be."
When Purtzer saw the report that he had the tour's best swing, he wasn't sure how to take the compliment.
"In the back of my mind I thought everyone would expect me to hit every shot perfectly," he said. "This game doesn't allow that. Now I take it for what it's worth. There are a lot of good swings out there. It doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot.
"There are a lot of guys with bad swings who are champions."
He wouldn't identify them.
"If you're a good wedge player and putter, you don't have to have a good swing," Purtzer said.
Azinger, who shot a 67, won this event in 1990. He said he had a very interesting year in '91: "good and some bad."
The positive side was his outstanding play in the Ryder Cup, helping the United States defeat the Europeans. He also won the prestigious AT&T Pebble Beach tournament and earned $685,603.
A back operation in late June kept him out of competition for 10 weeks.
Earlier, he was belatedly disqualified from the Doral tournament for inadvertently moving some rocks with his foot while taking a stance in a water hazard. That infraction was called to officials' attention by a television viewer.
And he and his partner, Chip Beck, had a dispute over golf balls with Seve Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup.
"Seve and I are friends," Azinger said. "We brought up (and settled) things that aggravated us in the tournament at Jamaica last month."
The course was still wet in spots from Tuesday's rain, but the players said it was generally in good condition. . . . John Daly, the long-hitting PGA champion, drew the largest gallery and shot a three-over-par 75. D.A. Weibring, who played with Daly, said the crowd got unruly at times, adding: "But they all came out to see John hit the ball." . . . Defending champion Tom Kite shot a 73, and Phil Mickelson, the only amateur in the field, had a 74. . . . Eleven players had sub-par rounds, including Brad Faxon, with a 68, and Steve Elkington and Davis Love III, each with a 69. . . . Paul Azinger says he is healthier and more flexible than ever and has gained 10 pounds.
First-round scores at the $800,000 Tournament of Champions at the 7,022-yard, par-72 La Costa course. Player: Score Blaine McCallister: 33-32--65 Tom Purtzer: 33-33--66 Paul Azinger: 33-34--67 Brad Faxon: 34-34--68 Steve Elkington :37-32--69 Davis Love III: 33-36--69 David Peoples: 35-35--70 Mark O'Meara: 36-34--70 Kenny Perry: 34-37--71 Billy Andrade: 36-35--71 D.A. Weibring: 36-35--71 Lanny Wadkins: 37-35--72 Fred Couples: 38-34--72 Russ Cochran: 35-37--72 Ian Baker-Finch: 39-33--72