Wi Surprising Leader at Honda Classic

By Associated PressMarch 1, 2007, 5:00 pm
2006 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Charlie Wi was playing in the John Deere Classic two years ago when some fans recognized him.
That is, they thought they recognized him.
'My caddie overheard one of the spectators saying, 'Oh, that's Michelle Wie's dad. He got a sponsor invite, too,'' said Wi, who -- like Wie -- missed the cut at the John Deere in July 2005. 'I thought that was hilarious.'
If Wi continues to play the way he did Thursday, more people will know who he really is.
Bolstered by a birdie-birdie finish, Wi shot a 5-under 65 in windy conditions at PGA National, giving him a one-shot lead over Bernhard Langer after one round of the Honda Classic. He missed only two fairways, connected on 17 of 20 putts inside 25 feet, and made a 40-footer for birdie at the par-4 13th.
'Today was definitely my day hitting the ball,' said Wi, who has made only 14 cuts in 30 previous PGA TOUR starts, but finished tied for ninth earlier this year at the Buick Invitational to make a career-best $130,000. 'And I'm really happy that when you have the opportunity, you capitalize on it. That's really important to me.'
Marco Dawson, Robert Allenby, Joe Ogilvie and Cliff Kresge shot 67s on a day marked by 20 mph wind and even higher gusts. Brandt Snedeker, 2005 winner Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III and Brett Wetterich were among those who opened with 68s, and Jim Furyk led a group of four another shot back at 69.
Allenby was 4 under after four holes thanks in part to an eagle at No. 3, where he hit a 'ripper' of a drive, then knocked a 3-wood to 40 feet and made the putt.
'You know it's tough,' Allenby said, 'so you've just got to persevere.'
John Daly found conditions especially tough, and that had nothing to do with the course.
Daly withdrew after suffering what was announced as a rib injury on the 12th tee, his third hole of the day. He tried to stop his swing when he heard a fan's camera clicking, tried to hit another tee ball, said he couldn't handle the pain and went off to seek treatment in the tour's medical trailer. He declined comment.
Like Daly, the 49-year-old Langer got in the field on a sponsor's exemption.
Unlike Daly, he left PGA National in a fairly upbeat mood.
Langer, who teed off in the opening 6:45 a.m. group -- and got a 4 a.m. wake-up call -- bogeyed his opening hole, but made nothing but birdies and pars the rest of the way. He hit 15 greens in regulation, helping him score on a course playing longer than its 7,048 yards.
'I can only hit it so far. So you've just got to hit more clubs into the greens,' said Langer, the two-time Masters winner. 'What is key you is need to keep is in the short grass. I think it's extremely tough to score from the rough here. You need to drive the ball in the fairway and then try and hit greens.'
Easier said than done, of course. Just 20 of 142 finishers broke par, and the day's average score was just shy of 3-over 73.
'The golf course isn't all that long on the card, but it's playing very soft,' Furyk said. 'I've got holes where I'm not getting hardly any roll at all. I'm picking up some mud on the ball on some drives. The course is playing lush and that gives us a chance. If the greens were firm and fast, whoo, look out.'
Defending champion Luke Donald, seeking to avoid missing the cut in three straight stroke-play events, shot 77, good for a tie for 118th.
Wi, who missed the cut in three of his first five tour events this season, arrived here Monday and quickly determined the course to be one of the hardest he's seen. Yet even after a couple solid practice rounds and Thursday's best round, he knows there's still a lot more to do if he's truly going to contend this weekend.
'It's just Thursday,' Wi said. 'We've got three more rounds to go.'
Paul Azinger (back spasms) and Fred Funk (back pain) withdrew, Azinger before the round and Funk after shooting 73. Azinger's early morning withdrawl gave Michael Allen a spot in the field; Allen opened with double-bogey and shot 77. ... Ryuji Imada withdrew after going 6 over on the first nine. ... Brad Faxon (77) took a triple-bogey 8 on the 18th hole, capping a five-hole stretch where he shot 6 over.
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