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1996 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

PGA Has Some Unfinished Business After a Long Day

Golf: Perry's 66 leads Elkington by one at Valhalla, but 60 players are still on course.

August 09, 1996|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Out here in the land of horses, bluegrass and bourbon, local knowledge helps. That may be why Kenny Perry, the slow-talking, sweet-swinging pride of Franklin, managed to take the lead in the uncompleted first round of the rain-splattered PGA Championship.

It's only about a two-hour drive from Franklin to Valhalla Golf Club, if you travel by four-wheel horseless carriage, and Perry needed a mere nine hours to make his way around the golf course and post a six-under-par 66.

Of course, the elapsed time in Perry's round included nearly four hours of a rain delay that pretty much mildewed the first day of the last major golf tournament of the year.

Perry rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the closing hole to take a one-shot margin as the leader in the clubhouse, just ahead of defending champion Steve Elkington, who finished hours before.

There were still 60 players who had not finished their rounds when play was finally halted because of darkness just before 9 p.m., including Phil Mickelson, who was also at six under but had finished only 12 holes.

Perry knows a thing or two about the quirky summer weather conditions in Kentucky, which certainly helped him out Thursday.

"It was just a fantastic day for Kenny Perry," Perry said.

It certainly was a long one. Mark Brooks, Nick Price, Joel Edwards and Russ Cochran all finished at 68, but they weren't the big story.

Basically, it was a good day for the weather.

In the morning, it was so hot, you could have fried an egg on a sand wedge. Then a cold front blew through in the afternoon and play was stopped at 2:43 p.m. for nearly four hours because of thunderstorms.

When play was suspended, only 45 players in the field of 150 had completed their rounds. Fifteen players hadn't even teed off and 90 more were out on the course.

After a second line of storms passed, play began again at 6:30 p.m.

The guys in the sports coats, the officials from the PGA of America, must have gotten tired of hearing about how the players were going to tear up Valhalla, so they toughened up the place with pin placements that were as frightening as John Daly's diet.

Price certainly noticed.

"Some of the pin positions were very, very difficult," he said. "This is going to make the course harder. This rain is going to make the course harder because it's going to play longer."

Besides a damp course, Elkington has the weight of history leaning up against him. Nobody has won back-to-back PGA titles since Denny Shute in 1936-1937.

Elkington isn't sure why.

"I'll tell you on Sunday," he said.

Figuring out Valhalla wasn't too difficult for Elkington. He put together a six-birdie, one-bogey round that featured five birdie putts of at least 10 feet.

He was at his best on the par-four 12th and 13th when he drilled 20-footers for back-to-back birdies. The only time Elkington took a step back was on the par-three 14th, when his three-iron missed the green, his chip shot ran 15 past the hole and he missed the putt.

Maybe the best thing that happened to Elkington was something over which he had no control--he was already off the course and in the locker room when play was suspended because of the weather.

As far as getting out front early, Elkington pointed out that there is a better time to be in such a position.

"I want to be in the front at the end," he said. "Being in front early doesn't make any difference. I'm trying to get as many birdies as I can, put them in the bank, because I'm going to need them by the end of the week."

Price bogeyed the first hole, which isn't exactly your textbook good start. He birdied the second, but bogeyed the par-three third when he left his four-iron short, chipped to 18 feet and missed the putt.

After that, Price settled down and managed to close with a rush, birdieing four of the last five holes.

"That was really nice for me," he said.

Brooks was feeling really nice about the way he opened, especially about a six-birdie stretch from No. 8 through No. 13 when he went from two over par to four under.

Valhalla is supposed to be the type of course that favors the best iron players, and Brooks went out to prove it.

His six-birdie streak was remarkable. He hit a six-iron to two feet on No. 8, an eight-iron to three feet on No. 9, a six-iron to five feet on No. 11, an eight-iron to six feet on No. 12 and a sand wedge to 12 feet on No. 13.

Nick Faldo had a very uncharacteristic round of eight birdies, five bogeys and only five pars. If he were any more up and down, he would have piped-in music and numbers for floors.

"At the moment, the key's the iron shots," Faldo said. "If you play those well, then you're going to set up a lot of birdie chances."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PGA Leaders

FIRST ROUND

At Valhalla Golf Club,

Louisville, Ky.--Par 72

Kenny Perry: 31-35--66 -6

Steve Elkington: 34-33--67 -5

Mark Brooks: 36-32--68 -4

Nick Price: 35-33--68 -4

Russ Cochran: 32-36--68 -4

Joel Edwards: 34-34--68 -4

Note: 60 golfers were unable to complete first round because of thunderstorms. They will complete the round today.

* COMPLETE RESULTS: C6

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