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Friday, June 18, 1999

Duval leads Open after first round

AP Sports Writer
PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) David Duval didn't have a baby to worry about. That was Phil Mickelson, who seemed less troubled by tricky greens of Pinehurst No. 2 than he did about a page to announce his daughter's expected arrival.

The fingers Duval burned picking up a tea kettle a week ago didn't bother him, either.

A pity, almost.

The way Duval strolled so calmly Thursday through the first round of the U.S. Open, it hardly seemed fair to the rest of the field that he didn't have some burden to carry.

The opening round wasn't so notable for the 67 that gave him a share of the lead with Mickelson, Billy Mayfair and Paul Goydos. Rather, it was for how effortless it seemed on a day when fellow competitors were clearly working hard.

"I find it to be less stressful that way," Duval said after never even sniffing a bogey in a nearly mistake-free opening round.

Duval had a late tee time today, as the sun returned to Pinehurst and swirling winds helped dry out the greens and give players fits as they tried to choose the correct clubs.

Tiger Woods gave a stroke back to par on the front nine, and fell two shots back, while John Daly teed off four holes behind him in hopes of trying to somehow match the opening 68 that put him within a shot of the lead.

While Mickelson worried about his expectant wife in Scottsdale, Ariz., and seemed always ready to flee the course and be with her, Duval's round Thursday was free of the scrambling and manufactured shots of his playing partner.

It also didn't include a plugged bunker shot Woods couldn't advance, or a wild tee shot into the trees on the 18th hole that cost Daly his own share of the lead.

It was just fairways and greens. Boring, maybe, but for Duval a proven winning formula.

"That's how I try to play," Duval said. "I try to not have to do those types of things."

On a day when Pinehurst's defenses were down slightly after rain softened the greens, Duval was on top of yet another leader board with a round that included 15 pars and three birdies.

The world's top-ranked golfer had plenty of company, with three others tied for the lead, five more a stroke behind and 26 others lurking within three shots.

Among them were Woods, who birdied his last two holes for a 68, and Daly, who birdied his first three en route to the same score. Payne Stewart, last year's leader for three rounds, was also at 2-under.

Astonishingly, it was the first time either of the world's top two players broke par in the first round of the Open.

"It wasn't a pretty round," said Woods, who was clearly angry at his erratic game on the front nine, but shot a 32 on the back. "But I managed to score, and the name of the game is scoring."

That Woods was in contention wasn't surprising after rain allowed the long hitters to pull out even longer clubs without fear of running the ball through the damp fairways.

What was surprising was the round of Daly, who missed the cut or withdrew in half of his 16 tournaments this year, and withdrew two weeks ago after a 6-putt on the final hole gave him an opening round 82 at the Memorial.

Daly actually had a chance to lead the tournament with a putt that hung on the lip on 16, and was tied at 3-under before a wild drive on 18 cost him a bogey.

"I don't expect to win the U.S. Open," Daly said. "I can't sit here and say that. My game is not in that fine of rhythm and I don't quite have that confidence."

Daly, whose battles with alcoholism are well chronicled, almost didn't come to Pinehurst after being forced to lay up with irons because of the deep rough and narrow fairways at the Open last year at the Olympic Club.

On Pinehurst No. 2, though, he was able to whale away with the driver.

"I think a major championship should be played to where you've got to play golf and not having to hit irons off tees," Daly said. "And I think that's why the guys love this place so much."

Mickelson, who with Duval has worn the label of best player to have never won a major, almost didn't come to Pinehurst, either. But he had a different reason his wife, Amy, is due June 30, and she has had a difficult pregnancy.

Mickelson's caddy carried a pager that Amy can send a secret code to if she begins labor. He has a private jet waiting, and has figured out it will take 5 hours and 15 minutes from the time he gets the beep to be by her side.

That is where, Mickelson vows, he will be if Amy calls, regardless of where he is on the leader board of the Open.

"I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to be there, whereas the U.S. Open takes place every year," he said. "If she punches in that code, I'm getting out. I'm getting a car as soon as I can and getting to the airport."

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