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ORLANDO, Fla. ' If youre an NBC employee, now might be the time to ask officials for a raise. The Peacock brass has to be euphoric after the first round of the Bay Hill Invitational.
 
The games two biggest personalities are two of the top names on the leaderboard, and some equally immense ' and telegenic ' talent is following them closely.
 
Two-time defending champion Tiger Woods and John Daly each opened in 5-under-par 67 to tie D.A. Weibring, John Huston, Steve Flesch and Argentine Angel Cabrera for the 18-hole lead. Cabrera led outright at 7-under with two holes to play, but finished bogey-bogey.
 
Sergio Garcia leads a group one shot back. Garcia, who played in the final group Sunday a year ago, is tied for seventh place with Stewart Cink, Kaname Yokoo and Rod Pampling.
 
Vijay Singh held a share of the lead through 12 holes, but bogeyed 13 and 14 in shooting 3-under 69. Hes tied with a plethora of players, including 1997 winner Phil Mickelson and Ryder Cup Captain Curtis Strange.
 
It just so happens that Daly and Woods rank Nos. 1 and 2 on the PGA Tour in driving distance. Cabrera led the European Tour in that category in 2001.
 
'Driving, of course, is always important,' said Garcia, who averages 287 yards off the tee. 'Getting the right distance (for your approach shots)is really important this week because you're playing with very little margin of error.
 
'It's tough, but it's a good challenge.'
 
Thursday, the leaders displayed a combination of overwhelming might and subdued control in attacking the renovated, 7,206-yard layout.
 
On a warm, yet docile Central Florida day, Woods played his first six holes in 4-under. However, he stalled like a nervous politician, parring Nos. 7-15. Tiger broke that streak with an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th, and narrowly missed a final red number at the last.
 
I didnt really get off to the greatest of starts, but my short game bailed me out, said Woods, who hit only nine of 18 greens in regulation but needed just 22 putts. I made a lot of putts today. Its nice to roll the ball on some good greens.
 
The greens have been a primary subject of conversation this week. The rebuilt exteriors are firm, and players are having to adjust in their shot-making.
 
You had to make sure to drive the ball in play; from there you could take your chances, if you wanted to, said Woods. These greens are hard and baked out ' its quite a challenge.
 
Playing in the threesome behind Tiger, Daly met the challenge, moving to 5-under through 12 holes, before carding back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14. But rather than folding down the stretch, he hit a driver and a 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 16th, and converted the eagle putt.
 
I played the par-5s in 5-under today; thats what I shot, noted Daly, who earned an invitation to the Masters by finishing last week inside the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
Though Daly is playing some of the most consistent golf in his life over the past two years, he has never fared well at Bay Hill. Prior to this round, he had shot in the 80s as many times as he had in the 60s. His lore of self-destruction was cemented in 1998, when he hit six balls into the lake on the par-5 sixth en route to an 18.
 
But this year, the granitic greens are playing to his strengths.
 
I hit it high and the greens are very (hard), Daly said. Im hitting a lot of short clubs into the par-4s which should be an advantage.
 
Its a course that I havent had a lot of success on, so its very difficult to really judge it.
 
Ernie Els, the 1998 Bay Hill champion and winner of his last two events, shot 3-under-69. Meanwhile, tournament host Arnold Palmer shot 14-over 86.
 
Full-field scores from the Bay Hill Invitational

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