Pettersson Sensational at Sunrise

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04 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- All those worried about tough greens and high numbers in the Honda Classic must have wondered whether Carl Pettersson played the wrong course at Mirasol.
 
Pettersson was in the right place Thursday, and conditions could not have been better. The result was a 9-under 63, giving him a two-stroke lead and leaving everyone else thankful that PGA Tour officials went easy on them with the way the Sunrise Course was set up.
 
'It wasn't playing as tough as it could have,' Pettersson said. 'They've got the pins in slightly easier spots. They could put them in ridiculous places. Glad they didn't.'
 
Mark Hensby, who faced slightly stronger breezes late in the afternoon, birdied four straight holes late in his round for a 65. Steve Flesch, Jesper Parnevik and Rory Sabbatini were another stroke back.
 
Sunrise wasn't the pushover that the adjacent Sunset Course was last year, when the cut was a record 6 under and 13 players finished at 20 under or better.
 
But it played so difficult during the pro-am round Wednesday, when a strong wind came out of the opposite direction, that some players were bracing for the worst.
 
John Riegger, among those at 67, played only nine holes during a practice round, called his wife and asked if she could bring the kids down for a vacation. His oldest daughter is in driver's education, so he had to stick around.
 
'I didn't see that kind of score, put it that way,' Riegger said. 'I think the only reason the golf course was playable today was the tour officials did an outstanding job of setting up the golf course.'
 
The 246-yard third hole played from a forward tee at 158 yards.
 
Most hole locations on PGA Tour courses are four paces from the edge. There were only three such placements in the first round, which helps because the elevated greens drop off severely on all sides.
 
That was no accident.
 
'We're trying to err on the conservative side,' rules official Tony Wallin said. 'The course is young. It only opened in November. It's hard, dry and fast. And if you err on the non-conservative side, that's when you really get in trouble, because then things can just go crazy.'
 
Pettersson went crazy in a good way.
 
The 26-year-old Swede, who moved to England when he was 10 and to North Carolina as a teenager, matched his best score on the PGA Tour with a bogey-free round.
 
After saving par with a 20-foot putt on No. 10, he holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th - another tee that was moved up 23 yards to play at 208 yards - and closed out his round with a 7-iron into 6 inches on the 18th.
 
'I obviously made a lot of putts to shoot 9 under,' he said. 'I've played better rounds tee-to-green, but I made the putts, which is a huge difference.'
 
Fred Couples, who predicted Wednesday that 75 would only be a mediocre score if the pins were tucked, shot 30 on his back nine and was in a large group at 68 that included Brad Faxon and Robert Allenby.
 
Davis Love III was cruising along at 5 under until he missed the green four straight times, and only got up-and-down from the collection area three times. He wound up with a 69.
 
'It's a little fun, but a little bit frustrating,' Love said.
 
He wasn't the least bit surprised that Pettersson shot such a low score, and had so much company.
 
'They talk for two to three days about how hard it is, and someone goes and shoot 7 or 8 under,' Love said. 'It happens all the time.'
 
The players got some help from the PGA Tour, but that can change.
 
All it takes is a little wind - 'I can take the Kevlar vest off today because the wind isn't blowing,' Wallin said - and a few more tough hole locations.
 
'I'm quite comfortable as it is,' Sabbatini said. 'I don't think they need to set it up any harder.'
 
Flesch wasn't sure which direction the breeze was blowing, only that it was favorable. Players had help on the long par 4s and most of the par 5s, allowing them to reach in two.
 
'Let's hope it stays that way until Monday,' he said.
 
Divots:@ No one had a rougher start than J.P. Hayes. He started at No. 10 and hit his first two drives out of bounds. Both times he had to walk back to the tee, and he finally took a quadruple-bogey 8. Hayes finished with an 80. ... Former Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange made his '04 debut with an 82. ... Mitch Knox, the caddie for David Duval, is working at the Honda Classic for 20-year-old Kevin Na, who opened with a 67. 'I got fired from Wal-Mart, so I had to do something,' Knox joked. Duval, who got married Saturday, has not played on the PGA Tour since October and has not said when he will return. ... Mark Calcavecchia, who has been dealing with a rib injury, withdrew after nine holes.
 
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