McGwire 12-over at Western Amateur

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BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- It certainly wasn't a home run for Mark McGwire on Wednesday.
 
The former baseball slugger made his debut in a major amateur golf event with an 12-over 82 at the 102nd annual Western Amateur, a score that left him 17 strokes behind the co-leaders and tied for 152nd in the field of 156.
 
I feel like a rookie playing in his first major league game, very much so,'' McGwire said at the Point O'Woods Golf and Country Club. I have a long way to go to play with these guys.''
 
McGwire is a long shot to make the cut after Thursday's second round, which takes the field down to 64 for match play. Tyler Hall, of Wayne, N.J., and Bronson LaCassie, of Australia, were the leaders with 65s after the first-round of stroke play.
 
I was happy with everything today except my score,'' McGwire said.
 
McGwire electrified baseball fans when he hit 70 home runs in 1998 to shatter Roger Maris' record of 61. That mark since has been bettered by Barry Bonds, but McGwire's baseball legacy is secure.
 
More than 100 fans followed McGwire around the course Wednesday. Point O'Woods officials say that's far fewer than those that followed basketball great Michael Jordan when he was given an exemption to play in the Western Amateur in 1991.
 
McGwire said the biggest problems he had were off the tee. Although many of his drives were long, he had a hard time keeping them in the fairway.
 
I had one really bad hole and then things started to tumble,'' he said.
 
The roughest hole was No. 16, when McGwire's tee shot hit a tree in the deep rough and landed behind a bush, forcing him to take a drop.
 
He had bogeys on the first two holes and later had a stretch from 12 to 14 where he went par-par-birdie.
 
I was starting to feel a groove but it didn't last,'' McGwire said. McGwire hit six trees on his front nine and made the turn at 43.
 
I realize I have a long way to go but I know I can play better than what I showed,'' he said.
 
McGwire's playing partners, Kevin Kisner, of Aiken, S.C., and Tyler Leon, of Dallas, both had good first rounds. Kisner shot a 69 and Leon, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, had a 71.
 
I love to watch these guys play,'' McGwire said. They can really get up and down and they consistently make good shots. I was kind of in awe of them.''
 
Others were in awe of McGwire.
 
Jack Hojara, 39, of Buchanan, interrupted his golfing vacation in northern Michigan to return to the area to watch McGwire. He wore a St. Louis Cardinals jersey with McGwire's name and No. 25 on his back as he walked the course.
 
I think it's great that he's trying his hand in golf,'' Hojara said. He's struggling today but you can tell he's a good player.''
 
McGwire enjoyed the fan support.
 
It's fabulous to have them come out,'' he said. This is a great atmosphere.''
 
McGwire was asked if, despite his disappointing round, he would come back to the Western Amateur if invited next year.
 
I'd be back in a heartbeat,'' he said.
 
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