Originally created 08/07/99

Els, Mediate, Pernice share lead

GRAND BLANC, Mich. -- Rocco Mediate shot a 64 on Friday to share the midway lead of the Buick Open with Ernie Els and Tom Pernice.

Tom Kite, who continued his hot wedge play, and long-hitting Vijay Singh were each a shot back of the three leaders.

The 7,105-yard, par-72 Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club yielded birdies in bunches as soft greens, a light breeze and generous fairways turned the tournament into what Els called "a putting contest." Driving a par-4, as Els did on the 322-yard 14th hole, provides a leg up in the contest. He cashed in at 14 by making a 25-foot eagle putt.

"Today was nice. You always smile when you shoot 65," Els said.

Mediate opened the tournament with a 1-over 37 -- decidedly mediocre here -- but went on to play the next 27 holes 12-under to get a share of the lead. He did it with a little tweak to his stance on the eighth tee Thursday. Mediate went back to a reliable, slightly closed stance that he'd gotten away from recently.

"I felt like I was aiming 100 yards right of the hole," Mediate said of the adjustment. His iron shot to the 199-yard par-3 "ended up 15 feet right of the hole."

Mediate stuck with the adjustment and hit almost every fairway and green since.

"That's the key. Boring, but it works," Mediate said.

There wasn't much adversity for Mediate on Friday, and what little there was he turned to his advantage. From under a tree on the long par-4 fifth hole, Mediate banged a low running 5-iron approach to three feet and made the birdie putt.

Mediate's tee shot on the 18th found a fairway divot but he hit a 6-iron approach to 12 feet and made the putt.

A relative unknown on the tour, Pernice made six birdies and no bogeys, making three putts of over 20 feet en route to a 66. Pernice has missed the cut 13 times in his last 22 tournaments but has top-20 finishes in his last two appearances.

Kite, appearing ready to end a long slump, tacked a solid 68 onto his first-round 66 for a 10-under total. He topped it off by chipping in for birdie on the par-3 17th from about 35 feet.

"I haven't put myself in a position to choke, I've been playing so poorly," Kite said. "I'm kind of looking forward to the opportunity of maybe being a little bit scared."

Kite actually said he missed talking to reporters, who generally confine their interviews to leaders. The statement was immediately discounted as resulting from euphoria over his strong play.

Singh is playing some of the best golf of his career and the best of just about anyone on tour in recent weeks. He already has nine top-10 finishes this year, including a victory in the Honda Classic, and next week will defend his PGA Championship.

"My swing is comfortable right now," Singh said. "I'm at ease. If I make a mistake, I am able to fix it quickly. That has helped my consistency."

Singh had an eagle and five birdies against a lone bogey. He reached the 580-yard 16th with a driver and a 3-wood, then made a 15-foot putt.

"This is a course where you can picture your shot before you hit it," Singh said. "Tree-lined courses are easier for me in that respect."

Bunched at 9-under were first-round leader Brent Geiberger; Stuart Appleby, who matched Mediate's 64 for low round of the day; and Bob Estes. Tom Lehman was among five players three shots off the lead.

Jeff Maggert matched Ted Tryba's first-round feat by shooting a 29 on the back nine to get to within six shots of the lead.

Despite the benign playing conditions, some prominent players missed the cut, including the two Spaniards in the field, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, defending Buick Open champion Billy Mayfair, and Paul Azinger.


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