Originally created 03/14/03

Low scores drive Honda



PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - The Honda Classic's latest venue, the Country Club at Mirasol's Sunset Course, is an exclusive, golfer-friendly members course.

At 7,157 yards, it's not designed to play host to a PGA Tour event. That was obvious in Thursday's opening round.

Of the 144 players in the field, 106 were under par when play was suspended because of lightning. The 38 players who did not finish will return this morning at 7. The second-round will follow as scheduled.

The clubhouse leaders are Justin Leonard, Notah Begay and Jeff Brehaut with bogey-free 9-under-par 63s. Three players shot 64 and two had 65, though that could change. Bob Estes is 7-under through 17 holes.

Augusta native Charles Howell opened with 69.

This is the fifth different course that has held this tournament, which started as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic in 1972.

The Sunset Course, designed by Arthur Hills, is being used this year only because the tournament's future permanent site, Mirasol's Sunrise Course, is still under construction.

That Tom Fazio-design will open in the fall and measure more than 7,500 yards. It will pose more of a challenge to the world's top golfers than its sister course.

The Sunset Course "is what it is," said Davis Love III, choosing his words carefully after shooting 66. "It wasn't built for a tournament. The back tees are a lot of layups (on doglegs par-4s) for us. There are going to be low scores."

The only defense the course has is wind, and that was absent Thursday morning when the co-leaders played.

Birdies were so plentiful that both Leonard and Begay had thoughts of breaking 60.

It crossed Leonard's mind after he shot 6-under 30 on the back nine, his first nine of the day.

"I thought about it one time, as I was walking to the No. 1 tee," Leonard said. "I said, 'Don't even go there.' Then I hit a bad tee shot. So I didn't think about it from there on out."

Begay is one of four players to shoot 59 in PGA or Nationwide Tour events. He did it in 1998.

"I was trying to shoot 58 today," Begay said."I've already shot 59."

Begay played with a set of clubs he started using this week. His contract with Nike ran out last week, so he switched to Ping irons and a Titleist driver.

"I guess everyone should go buy new irons," Begay said.

Brehaut is also using new clubs. His regular set was stolen from the garage of his California home Saturday night as he and his family were inside, watching a movie.

Brehaut arrived for the Honda Classic Sunday night and spent "Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday trying to scrape together a new set," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. I told my caddie, 'it's either going to be a 63 or 83."'

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.