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Price Putts Way to AmEx Lead

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An old putter produced some classic results for Nick Price Thursday at the WGC-American Express Championship.
 
Using a variation of the flatstick that produced three major titles, Price carded 11 birdies and two bogeys for a 9-under-par 63 and the first-round lead in Sotogrande, Spain.

Free Video - Registration Required Price Comments on 1st Round
 
Price's performance must have inspired his playing companion, Padraig Harrington. The Irishman produced seven birdies for a round of 6-under-par 66. The lone blemish on Harrington's card came in the form of a bogey 5 at the home hole.
 
American Scott Hoch and Scot Andrew Coltart are tied for third at 5-under-par. Defending champion Tiger Woods is eight shots off the pace after opening in 1-under-par 71. Tiger's round included three birdies over his first four holes; however, a series of missed putts plagued him throughout the day.
 
'I had five lipouts today, I didn't really play bad,' Tiger said, who birdied the 18th for his 44th consecutive round at par or better on the PGA Tour. 'The putts just weren't going in. It usually doesn't add up to low scoring.'
 
Woods was 3-under through nine holes, but bogeyed 12, 13 and 17. The bogey 6 at the penultimate holes was the result of a 6-iron from 203 yards, which caught the front of the green and rolled down the sharply sloped bank into the water.
 
The incident was similar to that which transpired in the final round a year ago, when Woods hit the green on his third shot only to watch his ball inexplicably roll into the pond. The resultant triple bogey forced a playoff, which Woods won over Miguel Angel Jimenez.
 
Seeking his first PGA Tour title since the 1998 FedEx St. Jude Classic, Price started quickly in Spain by carding five birdies over his first seven holes. A bogey at the par-4 8th slowed his momentum, though it hardly derailed him. Upon making the turn, Price strung together four straight red numbers beginning at the 11th. He did drop a shot at the par-3 15th, but the 43-year-old winner of 40 worldwide events concluded his remarkable round by birdying the 16th and 18th holes.
 
'It was a great round of golf,' Price said after coming within one stroke of matching Bernhard Langer's course record. 'Any time you make 11 birdies, you've got to be doing a lot of things right. Today, I hit the ball great. I holed a lot of putts in the six to 14-feet range. I guess you could say that I had a lot of fun out there.'
 
For the round, Price hit 12 of 14 fairways, 16 of 18 greens in regulation; and needed only 24 putts.
 
Earlier in the year, Price fired a first-round 63 to take the 18-hole lead at the Advil Western Open. In fact, he led by three shots over his closest competitor.
 
Sound familiar?
 
Price is in the same position this week, though he's hoping for a different result. After opening in 9-under-par at the Western Open, Price could only manage five strokes to par over his next three rounds combined. He finished in second place, losing in a playoff to Robert Allenby.
 
Perhaps the biggest surprise in round one was Franklin Langham. Langham is tied with fellow American Chris Perry and Canadian Mike Weir for fifth place at 4-under-par. Last week, the University of Georgia product finished 28th in the 29-man Tour Championship field in Atlanta.
 
Elsewhere, none of the top contenders in the European money race made a strong move to cross the finish line first come Sunday. Thomas Bjorn (fourth on the Volvo Order of Merit) carded a 2-under-par 70. Michael Campbell (fifth) and Lee Westwood (second) each opened in even-par 72.
 
Current Order of Merit leader Darren Clarke posted a first-round 74, one shot lower than Colin Montgomerie. Monty's reign as seven-time Order of Merit champion effectually came to an end on the 17th and 18th holes, which he played in a combined 3-over-par.
 
Ernie Els will not be able to capture the European money title. The South African, third in earnings, was forced to withdraw Thursday due to an ailing back. Els said he aggravated an old injury when he helped a pensioner lift his luggage off a carousel at the Orlando airport on Sunday night.
 
'It's an old problem,' said Els, who played nine holes in 2-over-par before withdrawing. 'I'm going to take the weekend off and get some more treatment and if it is ready I'm going to Bangkok (for next week's Johnnie Walker Classic). If not, I'm going to have to withdraw from that.