Notes Love Bothered By Bad Back

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Davis Love's chances at defending his title at The Players Championship were in trouble before he finished warming up. They were almost nonexistent by the time he reached the fifth tee box.
 
Love tweaked his back hitting 1-irons on the driving range before his opening round Thursday, which helps explain how he shot a 5-over-par 77, 12 strokes behind leader Adam Scott and in jeopardy of missing the cut.
 
Love started with three bogeys and a double bogey over the first four holes and stood at 6-over before the clock struck 10 a.m.
 
I got off to a bad start,'' he said. I don't know if it's because of the back stuff, or if it's just because I got off to a bad start.''
 
Like a lot of players on Tour, Love is no stranger to back problems; he said they come and go'' all the time. He hoped he could walk off his pain on the way to the first tee, but it never went away. He checked with a trainer at the turn and the trainer told him to keep trying it.
 
I thought I was making some good shots. I just wanted to make a birdie,'' he said.
 
He did, but only one. Now, he's on the verge of missing the cut, which would guarantee there would still not be a back-to-back champion in the 31 years of this tournament. There's also a chance he could withdraw.
 
If it feels like it did out there today, I might not play, but I don't know,'' Love said. I'd like to get out there, get five birdies in a row like I did last year. If you can get to even-par before the weekend, you might have a chance.''
 
BIG DOG
John Daly's quest to make the Masters got a boost when he shot 69 in a bogey-free opening round.
 
Bogey-free, that doesn't happen to many times for me out here,'' said Daly, who has never finished higher than 16th in this event. I made some good pars, and good putts. I didn't shoot myself in the foot, anyway.''
 
Daly saved a pair of tough pars on Nos. 11 and 13. On the par-5 11th, he drove into the rough and hit his layup shot too far, also into the rough. An indifferent chip left him 53 feet from the cup and he needed a 7-footer to save par.
 
On the par-3 13th, Daly hit the ball to the back of the long green, 60 feet away. His lag putt wasn't great, but he made a 6-footer to save par again.
 
Buoyed by his win last month at Torrey Pines, Daly came into the week ranked ninth on the 2004 money list. He qualifies for the Masters if he's in the top 10 after this week, or if he can move up from 53rd into the top 50 in the world ranking. He needs to finish in the top 19 this week to reach those goals.
 
QUALITY TIME
Some 18-year-olds go to the beach for spring break. Others go home and veg. Justin Perry is working -- as a caddie for his father.
 
Kenny Perry hired'' his son this week, hoping to spend a little quality time with Justin before he heads off to college. Kenny figured it might change his luck at The Players Championship, too.
 
I've never played that well here,'' he said. So, I figured it was a win-win situation.''
 
This was the first time on the bag for Justin, who earned a golf scholarship at Lipscomb University, and will enroll in the fall.
 
I was a little nervous,'' Justin said. When he started off with a couple birdies, that helped things.''
 
With help of those two early birdies and a 32 over his first nine holes, Perry shot 3-under to stay well in contention.
 
The TPC boasts the biggest purse on the PGA Tour, which leads to the question, what is Justin's cut if his dad wins?
 
Kenny Perry played it coy: I think I've paid him enough,'' he joked.
 
WALRUS WORKING
Last year, it was Jay Haas. This year -- at least so far -- it's Craig Stadler who is showing that the old guys can still play.
 
The Walrus used his putting touch to overcome an erratic round and finish at 2-under, five off the lead and very close to the leaderboard.
 
The 50-year-old Stadler, who last year became just the second player to win on the PGA and the Champions Tours in the same season, said it shouldn't be a shock that the older guys can still hang a bit. Last year, at age 50, Haas finished tied for second.
 
Stadler credited his good round mostly to putting.
 
It seems like as you get older, the putter keeps getting better,'' he said. If you keep the putter hot, you have a chance.''
 
Of course, after an up-and-down round that included four bogeys and six birdies, Stadler wasn't predicting victory.
 
I'd like to be around on Sunday afternoon, but I'm not sure I can. I hit a lot of suspect shots today,'' he said.
 
DIVOTS
There were 43 birdies made on the 18th hole, shattering the previous record of 24. No. 18 is the toughest hole in the 22 years the tournament has been played on the Stadium Course, playing at an average of .362 strokes over par. ... Mike Weir opened his round with 14 straight 4s, and closed with two more en route to a 74. ... David Peoples saw what could have been an excellent round get away from him when he hit his third shot on No. 10 into the pine straw near the cart path adjoining the 11th hole. With no clear shot to the green, he had to chip out, then hit his next shot off hardpan. He made a 7 and finished at 72. ... Craig Perks, the 2002 champion, shot 70. ... Fred Funk hit two balls into the water on No. 17, the island hole, for a 7.
 
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