Sat, Apr 03, 2010 - Page 18 News List

Percy grabs share of Houston Open lead with Stadler

AFP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

Kevin Stadler watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Houston Open golf tournament in Houston, Texas, on Thursday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Australia’s Cameron Percy fired five-under 67 on Thursday to seize a share of the first-round lead at the Houston Open, alongside American Kevin Stadler.

Vaughn Taylor and James Driscoll — Stadler’s playing partners in a morning group — were one shot back, along with fellow morning starter Kevin Sutherland and Anthony Kim, who played in the afternoon and defied strong winds.

Percy had five birdies with no bogeys in his round, and said the wind really made things difficult.

“With the wind and stuff, I thought a round about par would be a good score,” he said. “I was just playing pretty conservatively. I made a few putts and hit a few good shots ... Actually, just missed one on the last — I missed a 15-footer on last for birdie at as well, but I’ll take five-under for sure.”

Overall, however, Percy said some recent advice from friend Mal Baker had sent him to the putting green for some practice that has paid dividends.

“I spent hours and hours on the putting green Tuesday and Wednesday, and it has made a little difference,” Percy said.

A group on 69 included Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, England’s Lee Westwood and American Phil Mickelson, who are among the marquee players using the tournament on the Tournament Course at Redstone as a last tuneup for next week’s Masters.

South Africa’s Ernie Els, coming off consecutive victories at Doral and Bay Hill, opened with 70, while former Masters champion Fred Couples, who has won three straight starts on the Champions Tour carded a 71.

While Houston Open organizers have again tried to mimic conditions at Augusta National to lure those headed to the Masters, Harrington said that with the tournament underway players are focused on the title in Texas.

“It’s all about trying to win the Houston Open,” he said. “Augusta can wait three more days.”

Harrington said he played it safe after a disappointing session on the practice range.

He made three straight birdies on the back nine and he, too, played his best after the wind picked up in the afternoon.

“I was never quite sure of myself,” he said. “I was happy to play the golf I played. I made the most of my opportunities when they came around. I just wasn’t very confident.”

Kim seized a share of the lead after three straight birdies on his back nine, but made bogey at the last after driving into the water and hitting his third shot off a corporate suite.

He managed to limit the damage when he pitched over a greenside bunker to land two feet from the pin.

“I didn’t like my chances there,” Kim said. “I was looking right at the water and looked like the sand was pretty soft. So if I didn’t hit it perfectly, it’s going to be in one of those two spots.”

Stadler surged to six-under with four birdies in a row on the back nine, but settled for a share of the lead with a bogey at the last.

“We had a good time out there,” Stadler said. “I was kind of kicking back, watching those guys make putts most of the day. I made a few late to kind of catch up to them.”

Defending champion Paul Casey withdrew on Thursday morning with a left shoulder injury, but said he hoped it wouldn’t affect him for next week’s Masters.

Fiji’s Vijay Singh also withdrew, complaining of a sore back after nine holes.

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