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There's Little Room at the Top in La Jolla : Golf: Crowded leader board in PGA Tour event shows Mickelson, four others, with opening-round 65s.

February 10, 1995|DAN HAFNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA JOLLA — The cream of the crop came to the top as expected Thursday in the first round of the $1.2-million Buick Invitational of California golf tournament, but there also were some surprises on the crowded leader board.

Phil Mickelson, a hometown boy who is beginning to act as if this is his personal tournament--he's a two-time winner here--fired a 65, seven under par, and stood tied with four others for the lead. Another San Diego native, defending champion Craig Stadler, was two shots behind at 67. And still another favorite, Payne Stewart, shot a 66.

But how about these co-leaders? Chris DiMarco, Joel Edwards, Jerry Haas and Dan Pohl also shot 65s.

Edwards, no relation to veteran David Edwards, is in his seventh year on the PGA Tour and has never won.

DiMarco is in his second year and he hasn't won either.

Haas, younger brother of the more successful Jay, was ninth on the 1994 money list on the Nike tour.

And Pohl is a name out of the past. Bothered by back and knee problems for several years, he won only $21,734 in 15 events in 1994. He got a 10-year exemption in 1986 by winning the World Series of golf, his most recent victory.

The first two rounds are played on the North and South courses at Torrey Pines. The shorter by 400 yards, the North course is about two shots easier. Most of the day's best scores were on the North.

That made the 65s by Edwards and Pohl, who were playing the South, the impressive rounds.

Pohl, who said he has regained his health as he approaches 40, was having just an ordinary round until the last four holes. He birdied 15, 16 and 17, and when he sank a 60-foot chip for an eagle on 18, he leaped to the top of the board.

"I'm still shaking from that eagle on 18," he said. "It was right in the heart, but it's one you don't expect to make. It was the best driving round I've had in a long time. But even so, it looked like just another 70 until I went five under on the last four holes.

"I think I'm back, but I won't know for sure until I face a clutch putt in the last round and sink it."

Edwards has never been there. He tied for second in the B.C. Open in 1992, but has never finished a year higher than 108th. He has gone through qualifying school three times.

He, too, started slowly, making the turn at one under. But on the back nine he was hitting everything at the pin, posting a six-under 30. Until the 18th, when he sank a 15-footer for an eagle, he had not made a putt longer than five feet. Three of his birdies on the home nine were from two feet or less.

"The finish gave me momentum and maybe this time I can keep going," he said.

The outstanding conditions, smooth-rolling greens and fairways as good as some greens used to be for the old-timers, made for some outstanding golf. There were 20 at five-under or better, 59 were under 70.

But the golfers to beat figure to be Mickelson, Stadler and Stewart.

Stewart, after winning almost $1 million in 1993, slipped badly in 1994, winning only $145,000 for 123rd place. He finished as high as fifth only once.

He began this year with a new attitude, he said, and was fourth and fifth in the two previous events.

"I had a brain transplant," he said jokingly. " I turned my attitude around. I am happier and I'm smiling more. I have rededicated my game. It wasn't the clubs, it was the golfer. Even if I should win here, I won't be satisfied. I have to stay dedicated.

"It was a beautiful day, the courses are in good shape. It was a nice 66."

Mickelson's 65 was almost flawless except for his missing three putts of less than six feet.

"The putting, which went bad two weeks ago, is getting better," said Mickelson, who last won here in 1993, and was third a year ago. "Even the putts that didn't go in were well stroked.

"It's nice to play a course where the ball bounces on a drive instead of plugging like at Pebble Beach. And the rough isn't as bad as it looks."

Some who didn't fare too well, however, included Nick Faldo with a 71, Ben Crenshaw at 73 and Tom Kite at 75.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

GOLF LEADERS

Player:Score

Phil Mickelson: 31-34--65

Jerry Haas: 32-33--65

Joel Edwards: 35-30--65

Chris DiMarco: 32-33--65

Dan Pohl: 35-30--65

Bob Burns: 34-32--66

Brandel Chamblee: 33-33--66

David Ogrin: 33-33--66

Payne Stewart: 34-32--66

Brad Faxon: 33-33--66

10 tied at 67

*

OTHERS

Player: Score

Craig Stadler: 35-32--67

Peter Jacobsen: 34-34--68

Davis Love III: 37-32--69

Curtis Strange: 36-35--71

Nick Faldo: 36-35--71

Ben Crenshaw: 37-36--73

Tom Kite: 36-39--75

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