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Ames, Tway Lead the Downward Trend

They each shoot nine-under-par 63 to share first place in the Hope Classic as 99 players break par and field collects 526 birdies.

January 30, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

LA QUINTA — Stephen Ames started adding it up. He shot a nine-under-par 63 Wednesday at the Palmer Course at PGA West to start the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and now, if he could only do that four more times, that's, what, 45 under?

That could even be enough to win.

"Easily," said Ames, who is tied for the first-round lead with Bob Tway. "But I suspect they might get to 40 under this year, the way things are going."

Get your compass out. The way things are going this year is south, at least as far as the scores are heading, and the Hope is right in there with the best of them, as usual.

There were 526 birdies piled up on the four courses on opening day, and 99 players broke par. These are the kind of statistics that are showing up regularly on the golf ball shooting gallery that the PGA Tour has become, where a record 31-under-par score won at Kapalua and a near-record 23-under won at Phoenix.

What's it all about? Ames says it's not a complicated list of factors.

"Well, conditions are good, some are complaining about how far the balls are going, some of the golf courses are becoming obsolete," he said.

"The golf courses are so short, one. Two, the greens are absolutely perfect, the weather is perfect. You know you're going to have to make some putts."

Or a whole bunch of them.

To show you the problem here, one of those 99 players under par was Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, but his two-under 70 means there are 74 guys ahead of him.

John Cook knows the situation. When he won in 1992, he shot a 73 in the second round. He said if you shoot one round over par now, you not only won't win, you also won't make the cut. Last year, Cook shot four rounds under par and missed the cut.

"You can [shoot over par] in other events, but you've got to be five- or six-under every day, really, here to be close," Cook said.

It was fortunate for Cook, then, that he turned in an eight-under 64 at Indian Wells and is tied with Chris DiMarco, who shot his 64 at Bermuda Dunes.

David Duval, making his first start of the year, must have liked what he saw of Indian Wells, because he shot a 65, including a 31 on the front side. Duval's hot start vaulted him into a seven-way tie for fifth at seven-under, along with Robert Gamez, Frank Lickliter, Shaun Micheel, Rod Pampling, Matt Gogel and Dave Stockton Jr.

Tway missed the cut last week at Phoenix but obviously found that little something he was missing at PGA West.

Predicted Tway: "You're going to see some very, very low scores."

It's not as if anybody couldn't have predicted that. Most players were slaughtering the par-five holes, as Tway did at the 512-yard 11th, his second hole, where he hit a five-iron for his second shot. It's unusual to have anything longer than a wedge left on any par-four, and that's the way Ames played it in his bogey-free round.

Stockton, one of those tied with Duval at seven-under after toasting La Quinta with his 65, credited a practice round he played there last week.

"There's guys out there that have no problem going low," he said.

DiMarco began his round at the 10th with a birdie and was off and running. He did not expect to be alone, so he was not surprised. The idea is to get to somewhere around 30 under and not worry about how long it takes to get there, as long as you do.

"The courses are definitely going to play easy," he said. "There's no doubt about it. They are soft; you've just got to take advantage of them and try to just make a bunch of birdies. You have to go low the whole week."

The way Cook began the back nine, he wasn't sure how low he actually could go. He jerked his tee shot left on his 10th hole, the first at Indian Wells, high and pumped the ball into a palm tree that gobbled it up.

Even with that, Cook managed a good bogey save and birdied four holes in a row coming in. He said that keeping the ball on the fairway was key.

"That set up my whole round," he said. "From there, it's just nothing but nine-irons and wedges and sand wedges. I didn't have to work very hard to make birdies."

This can be nothing else but soothing to all of the players, who expect nothing less of their five-round experience shooting lights out, stuffing birdies in their bags, then adding it up to see how low they really can go.

What they're aiming for is Joe Durant's two-year-old record of 36 under. Or else they can really go for it and see if Ames is right and there's a 40 under available this weekend. Here in the desert, anything seems possible.

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