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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF ROUNDUP

Strange (68) Getting Game Back in Shape

March 06, 1998| From Associated Press

When Curtis Strange realized on Christmas Eve that the left side of his face was paralyzed, the fact that he hadn't won a PGA Tour event since the 1989 U.S. Open became a minor detail in his life.

"I couldn't move my left eye and I had to talk like this," Strange said, twisting his mouth into a grotesquely distorted shape to show the effects of Bell's palsy.

Strange has full movement in his face again and Thursday at Miami he also showed signs of the golf game that made him one of the most feared players in the late 1980s, shooting a 68 to share the first-round lead of the Doral-Ryder Open with Mark Calcavecchia, Bob Tway, Mike Brisky and Ronnie Black.

Tiger Woods closed with a rush, making three birdies in the last five holes, to finish in a bunch of players at 70 along with Jack Nicklaus, who is playing in his 36th Doral, the first coming 13 years before Woods was born.

The question now is whether Strange, once one of the best closers in the game, stills knows how to win after so many years without a victory.

"Yeah, I really do," Strange said. "I don't say that with a lot of confidence, but every year you have a couple of chances and I still think I can win."

The quartet tied with Strange one stroke in front of five players at 69 all teed off before 8:15 a.m. and had the huge advantage of playing at least some of their round in relative calm.

By midmorning, ocean gusts were blowing shots all around the Doral Resort.

Among those who struggled were Nick Faldo with a 72, Steve Elkington and Davis Love III at 73, Colin Montgomerie with a 75 and Justin Leonard at 78.

Greg Norman, who made birdies on three of the first four holes, found enough sand on the back nine to make a good-size beach and followed his 33 on the front nine with a 41 for a 74.

Strange went after the course with the confidence he had when he was dominating golf in the late 1980s. He made birdies on six of the first 15 holes, never once having a birdie putt longer than 12 feet.

"My short game is real good right now," Strange said. "I'm saving some shots."

Bell's palsy, a paralyzing illness caused by a virus, suddenly struck him in December and the left side of his face was paralyzed for 3 1/2 weeks. It took an additional two weeks to restore full use of his face.

On Wednesday he cut his practice round to nine holes because of an allergy attack.

"I'm fine now," he said. "I'm tickled to death with a 68."

Black managed to shoot a 68 despite having far from his best game.

He holed a bunker shot for one birdie, hit a 160-yard bunker shot to three feet for another and got up and down from 30 yards for a third.

Tway closed with a flourish to finish with a 68, sinking a seven-iron from 176 yards on No. 15 for a hole in one and making a birdie on No. 17.

Strange slipped when he missed the 17th green and couldn't save par and then three-putted from 40 feet on the final hole, leaving the approach putt nine feet from the cup.

"I kind of hit it fat," he said. "It was a terrible putt."

Then, with a smile using all of the muscles in his face, Strange walked off.

*

Sweden's Anders Forsbrand, without a victory on the European Tour since 1995, birdied the last three holes to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Qatar Masters at Doha.

Forsbrand mastered the blustery conditions with a five-under 67, one ahead of Scotland's Andrew Coltart.

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