Originally created 05/16/03

Putting lesson by phone paying off for Sluman



IRVING, Texas -- Jeff Sluman was so desperate for some help with his putting he took a lesson by phone. Now he's back on the top of the leaderboard.

Sluman shot a bogey-free 7-under 63 Thursday, including birdies on his last three holes, and held the first-round lead at the $5.6 million Byron Nelson Championship.

Billy Andrade, whose only bogey came on his final hole, was at 64 along with Jim Furyk and Kevin Sutherland. Vijay Singh and 1996 Nelson champ Phil Mickelson were among 11 players at 65.

Sluman, 45, wasn't having a bad season. He made 11 of 13 cuts, finishing 10th and 11th in the last two tournaments.

"I have played well all year for the most part, but I haven't made the putts that you need to make to keep rounds going or to get that one really low round in there," Sluman said.

So right before New Orleans two weeks ago, Sluman called part-time player and teacher Stan Utley.

"He hasn't seen my stroke on site yet," Sluman said. "What he told me, it kicked in a little at New Orleans and the stroke certainly feels more solid. I have to think what he told me is working right now."

Sluman played the 6,846-yard Cottonwood Valley course, supposedly made harder by the addition of 124 trees, new bunkers and more penalizing rough. But, as has been normal at the Nelson, the scores were still lower there than across the street at the par-70, 7,022-yard TPC at Las Colinas.

Of the 33 players who shot 66 or better Thursday, 23 played Cottonwood Valley. It is the seventh time in nine years the first-round leader played Cottonwood.

Furyk's 64 came on the TPC course, as did the 65s by Singh and Briny Baird.

Every player has a round on each course before the weekend is played on the TPC layout.

Andrade was tied for the lead until he pushed a 5-foot par putt past Cottonwood's 18th hole for his only bogey. That came after his approach spun off the green and he pitched close for a chance to save par.

"It was one of those putts where it looked like it was really slow and I knocked it by 4 1/2 feet," Andrade said. "I hit a lousy putt, I wasn't happy with the finish. Other than that, I made seven birdies."

Furyk, who like Andrade missed the cut last week at the Wachovia Championship, overcame two bogeys in his first eight holes with eight birdies.

"I went home and worked with my father. I tried to work some kinks out," Furyk said. "I spent a lot of time out here practicing on Tuesday and Wednesday. It paid off, and I have to keep plugging away."

After finishing as the runner-up last weekend, Singh created a stir by saying Annika Sorenstam had no business playing in next week's Colonial and that he hoped she missed the cut.

Met by reporters after a practice round this week, he said he was sorry if his comments came across as a personal attack against the LPGA star and tried to put his words in a different light. Still, he reiterated his feeling that Sorenstam didn't deserve one of the eight sponsor's exemptions to the Colonial, an invitational with a limited field.

Singh said Thursday, after his six-birdie round, that he wasn't concerned about the controversy. The 65 matched his best round of the year.

"I was just focused on my game," Singh said. "I don't read much of the papers. I was focused to play this week, and I want to do well."

One of Sluman's most impressive putts was one that didn't go in the cup. His 5-wood approach at the often treacherous green at the 539-yard par-5 16th was about 55 feet from the hole, and his lag putt set up the round-ending birdie string.

At the par-3 17th, Sluman hit a 6-iron to 12 feet. After a drive down the middle at the 439-yard 18th, he hit a 9-iron to 8 feet.

"Those three were an added bonus," Sluman said. "It made the round more complete than I thought it was going to be."

Sluman withdrew from last week's tournament in North Carolina because his father found a kidney donor and had surgery in Florida. Sluman said his father is doing well.

Tiger Woods is missing from the Nelson for the first time since he turned pro and won in 1997. He is instead defending his Deutsche Bank-SAP Open title in Germany.

Divots: Brad Faxon made a hole-in-one on the 181-yard No. 5 on the TPC course. He followed with a birdie and was 4-under at the turn, but finished 3-under after bogeys on two of his last four holes. ... Defending champion Shigeki Maruyama, who has been struggling with a neck injury, shot a 72.