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Listless Day Yields Low Scores

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KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The amenities on offer this week to the 36 participants in the Mercedes Championships field create quite a relaxed atmosphere.
 
From the title-sponsor loaner to the whale-watching cruises, players are in a complete comfort zone off the course.
 
But there may be one player more at ease than the rest.
 
Jim Furyk is the only man in the field who has competed in every Mercedes Championships since the tournament moved to Kapaluas par-73 Plantation Course in 1999. Hes finished inside the top 10 in each of those years, and claimed first prize in 2001.
 
In fact, he liked the venue so much he built a house just off the 18th fairway last year.
 
Furyk walked out of his front door and into the first-round lead of this weeks season-opener. On a benign tropical day, Furyk fired a one-eagle, seven-birdie 64 to tie Ernie Els for the top spot at 9 under par.
 
It was a good start to the year, good start to this week, and hopefully Ill keep it up, Furyk said.
 
The two lead Gene Sauers, who is making his first Mercedes appearance in 13 years, and first-timers Chris Riley and Jerry Kelly by a shot.
 
Kelly won the Sony Open in Hawaii last season to qualify for this event.
 
Riley and Sauers played in the same pairing Thursday and carded matching 8-under 65s.
 
I think we absolutely fed off each other, Riley said.
 
Both players made four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at the par-3 second. They also each shot 4-under 33 on the back nine.
 
Riley ' after three-putting the par-5 15th for par ' birdied his final three holes. I just kind of got mad, he said with a laugh.
 
In a tournament with few favorites ' with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson absent ' Furyk and Els showed why theyre two of the weeks best bets to grab the $1 million first-place check and the keys to the Mercedes-Benz SL500 sports car.
 
Furyk eagled the par-5 ninth after hitting a 4-wood to 15 feet. He made the turn in 5 under, and added four more birdies on the inward half.
 
Els parred his first four holes before making an eagle of his own at the par-5 fifth. He also birdied 5 and 6, but gave both shots back with a double bogey at the par-4 seventh when he pulled a 6-iron into the left hazard.
 
Undaunted, the 2000 runner-up birdied three of his next five holes and posted his second eagle of the day at the 15th ' it was the second time he hit 7-iron into a par-5 and converted the putt for a 3. He then closed with birdies on 16 and 18.
 
I just felt quite comfortable out there today, Els said. Im feeling good with the driver. I just let it go.
 
If there is a home-course advantage for Furyk its not due to the living quarters. The home wasnt finished until last summer, and he and his family have only spent a few weeks total there.
 
The advantage lies in his familiarity with the course. While there are 18 first-timers in the field this week, Furyk has not only played the Plantation Course every year its hosted this event, but he also played the course three times competitively in the former Kapalua Invitational.
 
I got to see the course in a lot of different conditions and styles, Furyk said.
 
Thursdays conditions were far from the norm.
 
I dont think Ive ever seen it this calm before, said Els. It cant stay like this, its impossible.
 
If it does, the 72-hole scoring record of 26-under-par 266 might be in jeopardy. Only four players failed to break par in the first round. The overall scoring average of 69.361was the lowest in any round since this event moved to this course.
 
Defending champion Sergio Garcia, who turned 23 Thursday, had a 2-under 71.
 
Related Links:
  • Full-field scores from the Mercedes Championships
  • Full coverage of the Mercedes Championships