Kuchar Henry Share Pebble Lead

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Matt Kuchar and J.J. Henry, who slipped from view after such promising rookie seasons, returned to the spotlight Thursday on a spectacular afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula with rounds of 7-under 65 for a one-stroke lead in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
 
For Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, only the scenery changed.
 
Singh, closing in on the PGA Tour record for most consecutive top 10s, recovered from a difficult start with two remarkable birdies on his way to a 5-under 67 at Poppy Hills. Mickelson, playing in the same group, continued his solid play with a 68.
 
''I had some putts that went in and some putts that didn't go in, just like it was for everybody,'' Mickelson said.
 
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is renowned for its celebrity field, stunning views and greens so soft and bumpy that only 6-inch putts are considered tap-ins.
 
On Thursday, it looked like a ''Welcome Back'' party for some of the leaders.
 
Kuchar, the former U.S. Amateur champion who had a charming run through the majors in 1998, won the Honda Classic two years ago but followed it up by finishing 182nd on the money list. Henry had two runner-up finishes as a rookie in 2001, but dropped into mediocrity the last two years.
 
''There's definitely a learning curve out here,'' Henry said.
 
The biggest surprise might have been Tommy Tolles, who shot a 66 at Pebble Beach.
 
Tolles, considered to be among the best young players when he nearly won the '96 Players Championship, watched his game slowly fall into disrepair until he was forced to play on the Nationwide Tour last year.
 
Getting back to the PGA Tour was a big deal. Starting his season with a 66, which included a chip-in on No. 17 that made him feel like Tom Watson, made it even better.
 
''On the Nationwide Tour, there were some tournaments you just didn't feel like this was a setting,'' he said. ''I was out here seven years, and I know what it's like. You can get competition wherever you go. But the atmosphere just isn't the same. There is only one PGA Tour.''
 
There's only one Pebble Beach, and Tolles really soaked it up.
 
It started on No. 1 with a birdie, ''a typical AT&T 10-footer, bounced around and eventually went in,'' Tolles said.
 
Despite hitting his approach onto the beach and taking a bogey at No. 10, he plugged away and got close to the leaders by chipping in from about 40 feet on the par-3 17th. It wasn't anywhere near the spot where Watson chipped in to win the '82 U.S. Open, but Tolles felt just as good.
 
''The feeling is incredible, but when there's 500 or 1,000 people around to cheer for you, it's icing on the cake,'' said Tolles, who was lucky to see that many people all year on the Nationwide Tour.
 
''It's just so unexpected that you just have this, 'Oh, I want to do cartwheels or somersaults.' But I'm too old for that,'' he said.
 
Defending champion Davis Love III was in no mood for acrobatics, opening with a 3-over 75 on the toughest of the three courses, Spyglass Hill.
 
Masters champion Mike Weir had a 73 at Spyglass.
 
Kuchar finished with three straight birdies at Poppy Hills.
 
Most of the celebrities, such as Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, Kevin Costner and Ray Romano, were at Poppy Hills, but Singh and Mickelson were the top attraction.
 
Singh made a brilliant escape from the trees on No. 1, only to three-putt for bogey from just inside 4 feet. He also bogeyed the par-5 fourth hole to fall to 2 over.
 
''Two unforced errors, and I played well from there in,'' Singh said.
 
His fortunes changed on No. 10, one of the five par 5s on Poppy. His second shot went deep into the trees, leaving Singh no shot at the green except to take it over a pine. It came off perfectly, leaving him a short birdie.
 
''I had to hit it straight over the trees, but I've practiced that shot before,'' Singh said.
 
Then on the par-4 16th, he was in the trees to the right and hit an approach that caromed off the ridge and spun sideways down a ridge to about 10 feet for another birdie.
 
Singh has 11 consecutive top 10s, three short of the modern-day record held by Jack Nicklaus.
 
It was a good start to a long week, which features six-hour rounds with 360 players -- half of them amateurs -- scattered among three golf courses that have squishy fairways and bumpy greens.
 
Henry remembers watching Pebble Beach as a kid in Connecticut, when snow was piled up in his yard. To be playing is a treat, and to be tied for the lead -- even for one day -- was even better.
 
''You realize you're lucky to be out here,'' Henry said.
 
No need to tell that to Tolles.
 
Notes: Craig Stadler, 50, playing in his third PGA Tour event of the year, had a 68. He was one shot better than his son, Kevin Stadler, who is playing on a sponsor's exemption. ... Mickelson has begged out of the celebrity rotation the last two years at the Bob Hope Classic, but he's right in the middle of it at Pebble Beach. ''I forgot to call and request to get out of it,'' he said. ... Pat Perez, poised to win here two years ago until he hit two tee shots out of bounds on the back nine, opened with an 80 on Poppy Hills. The hot-tempered Perez is paired this week with Joe Pesci.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
  • Full Coverage - AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
     
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