Azinger Sauers Lead Suspended HP

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04 HP Classic of New OrleansNEW ORLEANS -- Paul Azinger and Gene Sauers posted matching rounds of 6-under-par 66 Thursday to take the clubhouse lead in the first round of the HP Classic of New Orleans suspended due to darkness.
 
Azinger and Sauers are joined atop the leaderboard at minus-6 by Robert Damron, who has played 17 holes and Chris DiMarco, who is through 14 holes at English Turn Golf and Country Club.
 
Play was suspended due to darkness at 8:30 p.m. ET after a three-plus hour weather delay earlier in the day. First-round action will resume Friday at 8:00 a.m. with the second round commencing at 9:15 a.m., an hour later than originally scheduled.
 
A group of 12 players are one stroke behind the leaders. Ricky Barnes and Mathias Gronberg, as well as K.J. Choi, Joe Durant and Justin Rose all carded rounds of 5-under-par 67. They are joined there by David Sutherland (17 holes), Patrick Sheehan (16), Scott Verplank (16), Charles Howell III (15), defending champion Steve Flesch (14), Dennis Paulson (13) and Danny Ellis (9).
 
Azinger began his round on the 10th tee at English Turn and started by converting back-to-back birdies. He dropped in another birdie putt at the 14th to move to minus-3.
 
The 1993 PGA Championship winner cruised around the turn as he ran off nine consecutive pars. Azinger caught fire down the stretch, converting a birdie try at the par-5 sixth.
 
He made it two straight with a birdie at the seventh and capped a run of three birdies in a row when he dropped in a birdie attempt at the eighth.
 
'The last couple of years I played awful. My swing was a disaster. My body was hurt, and my back was a disaster too,' said Azinger. 'I changed coaches and I'm trying to get the club to go more around me. So far it's been paying off. My driving accuracy has been bad, but I'm on the mend. The great thing is, my lower back doesn't hurt anymore.'
 
Sauers started with a bogey at the first, but came right back to birdie No. 2. After four straight pars, he dropped in his second birdie at the seventh and moved to minus-2 with a birdie at the ninth.
 
On the back side, Sauers birdied the 10th and 11th to make it three in a row. He moved to minus-5 with a birdie at the 13th and joined Azinger atop the leaderboard with a birdie at the 16th.
 
'I hit the ball well after the first hole,' said Sauers, whose last win was at the 2002 Air Canada Championship. 'I just kind of was in a hurry this morning. I kind of rushed myself to the range and wouldn't settle down. Now I can concentrate on golf.'
 
Damron spread four birdies over his opening nine holes on the back nine. On the front side, he dropped in a birdie at the par-5 second and tied the leaders with a birdie at the eighth. Play was halted due to darkness with Damron needing to play one more hole.
 
DiMarco birdied the second and fifth to get his round going. He then reeled off three consecutive birdies from the seventh to make the turn at minus-5. He birdied the par-5 11th, then posted three straight pars from the 12th before play was halted.
 
The leaderboard remains crowded behind the players at 5 under. Dan Olsen, Ryan Palmer, Blaine McCallister, Kelly Gibson and John Rollins all completed rounds of 4-under-par 68.
 
Eleven more players stand at minus-4, including Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who is playing for the first time since winning his first major. Those 11 players make it 29 golfers within two strokes of the leaders.
 
Related Links:
  • Zinger's Quick Fix
  • Leaderboard - HP Classic of New Orleans
  • Full Coverage - HP Classic of New Orleans