Originally created 09/30/00

Maggert first-round leader



PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Jeff Maggert is good enough to have played on the last three Ryder Cup teams, qualify for seven of the last eight Tour Championships and even beat Tiger Woods in match play.

Getting motivated is another matter.

Maggert has never seriously contended on the PGA Tour this year, and it's not hard to find the reason -- a new wife, three kids, Little League games, dance recitals and some R&R in front of the television.

Perhaps the peaceful setting at Callaway Gardens inspired him. He posted his lowest score of the year on Thursday, a 9-under 63, that gave him a three-stroke lead after the first round of the Buick Challenge.

"My ambition is to sit at home and watch TV and watch the kids play," Maggert said. "I'm more like Fred Couples than Tiger Woods."

Perhaps that will change as the week goes on, especially if the 36-year-old from Houston gets closer to his third career victory, and his first since beating Woods in the quarterfinals and going on to win the inaugural Match Play Championship last year.

Maggert hit the pin with his second shot on the par-5 second hole, a 3-iron from 212 yards that stopped 2 feet away for a tap-in eagle. He hit a couple of others close on his way to a bogey-free 63, which matches the lowest first-round score on tour this year.

His three-stroke lead also matched the largest 18-hole lead this year.

Paul Azinger birdied three of the last four holes for a 66, while Joey Sindelar and Charles Raulerson -- both in need of a good week to help secure their exempt status for next year -- also were at 66.

Among those at 68 was someone who is motivated to get back -- David Duval, playing for the first time in two months because of a back injury.

Despite a bogey on the first hole, Duval made five par-saving putts from 4 to 10 feet and wasted little time getting into the thick of things. He was just as impressed with his health as his score.

"I felt great all day," Duval said. "It was kind of surprising that my short game actually saved me a few shots, especially when you haven't been able to do much of it -- or any of it."

Stewart Cink and Scott Hoch were among those at 67. Davis Love III, who has not won in 2' years, bogeyed the last hole for a 70.

Until Thursday, Maggert's lowest round of the year was a 5-under 67 at the Buick Open last month. Not that he has cared.

"I haven't been real focused on golf," he said. "There's a lot more things that are enjoyable than chasing a ball around 30 weeks of the year and living in a hotel room. It's an easy choice. I'm motivated at certain times of the year. For four or five weeks, I can play at a level of Tiger Woods and be that motivated."

Maybe this is one of them.

He missed only two fairways, twice saved par from bunkers and cruised around the Mountain View course with seven birdies and his eagle. None of his birdie putts was longer than 15 feet, and Maggert played the par 5s in 5 under.

"Those are Tiger Woods-like numbers," said Maggert, who is 138th on tour in driving distance.

Sindelar did all his damage on the par 5s and par 3s, birdies on three of each for a bogey-free 66, a good start for a man who is 130th on the money list and has finished outside the top 125 only once in his 17 years on tour.

Raulerson is 159th on the money list, and needs about $230,000 to keep his card.

"It was a good, stress-free day," Sindelar said.

The best news for Duval was that it was a pain-free day. The 68 wasn't bad, either.

Duval, the No. 1 player in the world until Woods blew by the world of golf in the last 13 months, first experienced pain in his back after the U.S. Open and made a brief run at Woods in the final round of the British Open.

He had not played a full round since, spending about six weeks lying on his back.

And at times it showed.

On nearly a dozen occasions, Duval backed off his shot as he tried to get comfortable with finding the line and pulling off the shot. He went after only two flags, preferring to aim for the middle of the green.

He caught the lip of a fairway bunker on the first hole, the ball barely getting out and leading to an opening bogey. But he got up-and-down from the bunker three times -- twice for birdie on par 5s -- and made several big putts to keep his round alive.

"I wasn't in a hurry today," Duval said. "I was trying to really play smart."