Originally created 04/02/04

Tambellini leads for first time in brief PGA Tour career



DULUTH, Ga. -- The tee shots found the fairway, the approach shots nestled close to the hole and the putts rolled smoothly.

For one day, at least, Jose Maria Olazabal was back on his game.

The two-time Masters champion crafted a 7-under 65 Thursday to tie rookie Roger Tambellini for the lead after a blustery first round at the BellSouth Classic. They were one shot ahead of Craig Bowden, and two in front of Tim Petrovic and PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel.

In his first seven events this season, Olazabal missed three cuts and withdrew from the FBR Open. His best finish is a tie for 40th at Bay Hill, and he failed to qualify for the weekend at The Players Championship.

"It's been a struggle," Olazabal said. "I've been going through a tough spell. One day, I might have a a good round, and then the following day, I can't follow that with another round.

"It has been frustrating, but all I can do is keep on trying."

So, unlike most of his competitors playing next week in the Masters, Olazabal is focused solely on this tournament.

"At the moment, I'm trying to do the best I can this week," he said. "I know that tomorrow is a different day. I have to start from scratch."

Adam Scott, who hung on to win The Players Championship last week, is three shots back in a group that includes defending BellSouth champ Ben Crane. Phil Mickelson is one more behind after a 69.

"I struggled early on, but I didn't drop any shots," Scott said. "I started playing nicely on the back. I'm pretty happy with that score. Seven-under is pretty deep out there."

Temperatures at the start of the day hovered around 40 degrees, with a brisk wind that made it feel much colder. Even though it warmed up a bit later, conditions stayed tough.

"It's almost like a round like this on days like this, you don't pick them, they kind of pick you," said Tambellini, who's previous best round this season was a 68 in the Buick Invitational.

Even though he's playing in only the seventh tournament of his career, Tambellini has had brief moments in the spotlight. He held up well in a Saturday pairing with Tiger Woods at the Buick, shooting 70 to stay in contention before faltering in the final round.

And his lone victory on the Nationwide Tour last season came at the Boise Open, where Michelle Wie became the first woman to compete on the developmental tour.

"I've never seen crowds like that in a Nationwide event," Tambellini said. "There were thousands of people watching her. She really drew the crowd, so that was fun. It was a fun week to win."

He doesn't begrudge anything to Wie, who narrowly missed the cut at the PGA Tour Sony Open in Hawaii in January.

"Luckily, I clipped her by a couple there," Tambellini said. "But she actually clipped me by a shot at the Hawaii tournament, so I've got nothing on her."

He got his round at the BellSouth going during a three-hole stretch late, a run that started with an eagle on the par-5 sixth, his 15th hole.

After a 316-yard drive, he hit a 3-wood into a sand trap just left of the green. The lie was well below the putting surface, so Tambellini didn't get to see his shot. The ball landed softly on the green and ran in for eagle, and he followed that up with back-to-back birdies.

"It was kind of a shock, actually," Tambellini said of his eagle. "I heard it hit the pin and everybody was cheering. Then I felt really comfortable after that."

Petrovic seemed comfortable too. He had a bogey-free round, and his game appears to be rounding into shape as he prepares for his first trip to the Masters.

Earlier this week, he and his father went to Augusta, where Petrovic played a couple of practice rounds.

"I knew if I didn't go over there this week, I would be thinking about it," he said. "I got some help from a few of the caddies over there and some top secret information that will hopefully help me next week."