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Sabbatini and Uresti share lead at Turning Stone

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Turning Stone 2007 Logo

VERONA, N.Y. – Rory Sabbatini doesn’t have a problem reaching greens. He just has to get his putter working.

The 34-year-old South African hit all 18 greens in regulation for the second time in two months Thursday and shot a 7-under 65 that had him tied for the lead with Omar Uresti at the rain-delayed Turning Stone Resort Championship.

Sabbatini and Uresti both had seven birdies without a bogey and were one stroke in front of Brad Faxon, Brian Davis, Steve Elkington and Alex Cejka.

Despite shooting his best round since a 63 at the season-opening SBS Championship, Sabbatini needed 30 putts, five more than Uresti.

“It’s not often you can come off the golf course and jokingly say you should have birdied them all.” said Sabbatini, who was an alternate for last month’s British Open at St. Andrews but did not play. “But I did.”

John Mallinger, Chris Couch, Jonathan Byrd, Michael Bradley, Jason Dufner and Tim Wilkinson, who had to qualify on Monday, were tied at 67.

Because of a weather delay of nearly three hours, 24 players did not complete the first round. Among those who did not finish and were to complete the opening round on Friday morning were Chris Tidland, who was at 6 under with two holes to play, and Steve Wheatcroft, who was at 5 under after 16 holes.

Fifteen-year-old Gavin Hall, of Pittsford, N.Y., finished at 6-over 78 in his PGA Tour debut. Hall is bidding to become the second-youngest player in PGA Tour history to make the cut in a tournament.

The rain softened the 7,482-yard Atunyote Golf Club layout just enough to allow the players to aim at the pins on what turned into a sunny, humid day with a steady wind between 10 and 20 mph.

Sabbatini, who started on the back nine, birdied his first three holes before lightning and rain caused a 2-hour, 43-minute delay. He came back out and made birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 to make the turn at 31.

Although he made just one birdie on the four par-5s, Sabbatini birdied three of the four par-3s in a round he’ll likely replay in his mind a few times.

“I would say I played well,” he said. “I didn’t score anywhere near what my potential was out there. I had a really good ball-striking day, had a lot of short birdie putts that I missed, a lot of good opportunities that I squandered out there, but overall, you know, going out there I made it a pretty stress-free day.

“I like the layout, and they give us quite a bit of room out there to work with,” Sabbatini said. “Obviously, that little bit of rain we had early on this morning kind of softened the conditions up, so it made it pretty easy to be aggressive, especially to some of those pins.”

Uresti has missed the cut in four of his last five PGA starts, tied for 59th last month at the Reno-Tahoe Open, and had had only one round in the 60s since mid-June.

A new putter made all the difference Thursday.

“If you look at my rounds and my stats recently, I’ve been having 32 to 34, even 35 putts a round and only shooting a couple over,” Uresti said. “So to get it down to where I did today at 25, that’s 10 strokes off the score right there, or at least nine. That’s what’s been hurting me. Today it felt really good in my hands. I felt confident, and I was trying not to take so much time over it.”

Uresti made five birdies on the back side, his best coming at the par-4 13th. He hit a 3-iron into the wind to 44 feet and made the putt, which broke nearly 8 feet. Unfortunately, he had to ask his caddie what happened.

“It stopped on the front lip, and I put my head down and didn’t see it drop,” Uresti said with a smile. “It’s just a matter of getting it in the hole. It helps just to be able to throw up a number. It feels pretty good.”

Hall, who had a gallery of around 200 – by far the largest of the day – following him, was upbeat despite a round that included two bogeys, a double-bogey, and a triple-bogey.

“It was a good day, it was all right, just a struggle from the first hole,” said Hall, who made 11 pars and two birdies. “But that’s going to happen in golf. It was just unfortunate, one of my bad days of golf happened at a PGA Tour event.

“I still have a lot of confidence,” he said. “I’ve never had a big crowd like that around the ropes. It was just a different feeling, so I was out of rhythm most of the whole day. I definitely learned a lot, and if I can improve a little more here and there I think I’ll play well (Friday). I’ve already had a 62 this year, so I think there’s one out there.”