Originally created 03/03/00

Four-way tie for lead as 'Monster' shows a soft side at Doral



MIAMI -- The Blue Monster is no longer the beast it was.

Toned down from a controversial redesign that kept top players from coming back, the Doral-Ryder Open had a familiar look to it Thursday -- low scores on a day of virtually no wind, and some familiar faces at the top of the leaderboard.

Bruce Lietzke, playing his last tournament before his annual seven-week hiatus, had eight birdies in a round of 7-under 65 that left him tied after the first round with Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Harrison Frazar.

Phil Mickelson, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer were among the six players another stroke back, while three-time champion Greg Norman showed signs of life with a 4-under 68.

"A real friendly day," said Lietzke, who plays about as often as he practices -- not much -- but has been coming to Doral for 22 years.

"It's back to playing like it did," he said. "On a day like this, we're always going to shoot low rounds."

Then again, it was calm in the first round a year ago and only 23 players managed to break 70. Now that Doral has refilled or reshaped 70 of the cavernous bunkers put in by Raymond Floyd, the number of rounds in the 60s was nearly doubled Thursday.

Not everyone took advantage.

David Duval, who decided to play Doral because he felt his game rounding into form, didn't give himself many makeable birdies and walked off with a 71, tied with defending champion Steve Elkington.

Erik Compton, the first heart-transplant recipient to play the PGA Tour, had a 72.

"The golf course doesn't look quite as intimidating anymore," Frazar said. "You can actually see some land where you are trying to hit it. In the past couple of years, all you saw was the wall of a bunker, or you tried to hit it over one trap and leave it short of the others.

"It's a little more reassuring when you can see some grass."

The only thing that broke the stillness of morning on a warm, sunny day in south Florida was the rat-a-tat of automatic weapons from the FBI shooting range adjacent to Doral.

And that only brought back fond memories to Frazar. His grandfather, an FBI agent for some 35 years, died last week after a lengthy illness.

"Kind of spooky," he said. "I thought about him a lot today."

Frazar, whose life has taken several turns over the past couple months, fired off a few volleys of his own. He had seven birdies in a near flawless round, in which he hit every fairway, missed only three greens and never came seriously close to a bogey.

Frazar's first child was born Dec. 2, and he has tried to take young Harrison on the road -- at the expense of a good night's sleep.

"You can handle it for a day or two, but as it continues on for two, three weeks, it just gets harder and harder," he said.

He got a sinus infection going from the desert sun of Phoenix to chilly Pebble Beach, changed equipment before Los Angeles and then had to pull out of the Tucson Open when his grandfather died.

"It's been a rough start of the year for me," he said.

It's been a grind for Lietzke, who will go two months at a time without even knowing where he has stored his clubs. This is his third straight tournament, and "I'm about to pass out from exhaustion."

Lietzke doesn't preach what he practices -- a good thing, since he hardly practices at all. He doesn't want to tinker with a swing that has been good to him for 26 years and 13 victories on the PGA Tour, relying instead on his putter.

"My whole career revolves around the putter," he said.

Singh's career seems to revolve around several putters -- too many to count. The one he put in play a couple of week ago even comes with a catchy name.

"It's call a Dandy," Singh said. "I'm putting well with it. If I putted bad with it, I'd probably change. It's working for me right now."

It will be in the bag again Friday. He jumped into the mix with a 20-foot birdie on No. 4 that swirled around the lip before dropping, prompting the usually stoic Singh to play to the gallery with a fist jab. He dropped a 30-footer on the next hole, and picked up his eighth birdie of the round on the par-5 eighth.

The last time four players shared the first-round lead was the Hartford Open seven months ago.

"It could be a lot of fun," Lietzke said. "But I'm not the only one thinking that way."



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