Originally created 02/23/01

Scherrer gets off to an impressive start



LOS ANGELES -- Tom Scherrer didn't want to embarrass himself in front of such an important audience - Tiger Woods in his threesome, thousands of fans in tow. He held up just fine Thursday in the first round of the Nissan Open.

The large gallery that accompanied the No. 1 player in the world was treated to a nearly flawless round by Scherrer, whose bogey-free 66 on a cool, breezy morning at Riviera Country Club gave him a share of the lead.

Sergio Garcia, back from two rocky weeks in Australia, defending champion Kirk Triplett and alternate Brent Schwarzrock also shot 66s to share the lead.

Why was Scherrer so concerned about playing with Woods?

"He's the best ever," he said. "I wanted to make a good impression."

Consider it done.

While Woods struggled to hit it close and never made a putt longer than 4 feet in a round of even-par 71, Scherrer never came seriously close to a bogey.

"Playing with Tiger, I was pretty excited and very happy I played well in front of him," Scherrer said. "I didn't want to embarrass myself."

Schwarzrock could have been excused if he had chopped up Riviera. He only found out he was in the Nissan Open field on Tuesday, then flew across the country from Georgia and didn't have time to play the course.

"I played the course blind," he said. "I didn't think there was a chance I'd get in here."

He made the most of his opportunity. Despite bogeys on both par 5s on the back nine, Schwarzrock chipped in twice for birdie on his way to a 66.

Garcia twice two-putted for birdie, twice made birdies on par 3s and didn't have any penalty strokes at the end of his round.

Two weeks ago in Australia, Garcia was penalized two strokes for taking an improper drop. The penalty erased his two-stroke lead, and he wound up losing to Aaron Baddeley in a playoff, but not before blaming his troubles on European rules official John Paramor.

The next week, he missed the cut.

"That's all done. Forgotten," Garcia said. "I remember how well I played. I don't think many players can play as well as I did that week. Losing a playoff with a two-stroke penalty, not making a putt on Sunday ... It really showed me a lot."

Triplett, who won for the first time in 266 starts a year ago, had seven birdies in his round of 66 as he tries to become the first player since Corey Pavin in 1995 to successfully defend his Nissan Open title.

Japanese stars Joe Ozaki and Shigeki Maruyama were in a large group at 67.

Phil Mickelson was a late arrival by choice. He flew in late Wednesday and, without playing a practice round, had a 73 and was seven strokes behind. Mickelson and Davis Love III are the top contenders for a $500,000 bonus for winning the West Coast Swing.

Love birdied his last hole for a 3-under 68.

Woods has an outside shot at the bonus, but not at this rate. He put his old driver back in the bag because he had shape his shots better, but driving was the least of his worries.

Woods never gave himself easy chances at birdies, three-putted from 45 feet for bogey and hit a couple of marginal chips that led to two more bogeys. His only birdies came on two par 5s and a wedge that spun back to 2 inches on his 17th hole.

"I just hit some bad putts and a couple of loose shots," Woods said. "I was putting all right, but the problem is when you have the 40- and 45-footers and the 30-footers all day, you're not going to make your share of those. I need to hit the ball a little closer.

"The golf course can be had if you're playing well."

Scherrer knows that feeling.

The Kemper Open champion made his 66 look easy, although it required a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe on his first hole, No. 10, and a 30-footer on the 12th that broke sharply at the end and brought a surprised smile to his face.

Playing with Woods for the first time was enough of a challenge. Thursday was the first round Scherrer had played since he had an 80 in the final round at Pebble Beach. He played that round with Love, who was 8 under on his first seven holes and closed with a 63 to win.

"Davis beat me by 17," Scherrer said. "I didn't want a repeat performance of that."

Divots: PGA Tour rules official Dillard Pruitt came up with an idea for a tribute to Dale Earnhardt by attaching a black ribbon to the flag on No. 3 - the Intimidator's car number. ... Tiger Woods grew up in the Los Angeles area, which leads some to believe he has a home course advantage at Riviera. There's just one problem. "I never really played here a whole lot," Woods said. "I didn't have enough money. Riviera never hosted any junior events." ... Sergio Garcia said he has not heard whether he will be fined for disparaging comments about European rules officials John Paramor. "They're trying to make themselves rich from me," he said. "Hopefully, I'll play well this week and I'll have enough money to pay them."