Surprise Leaders in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS -- Tour rookie Akio Sadakata and Paul Stankowski fired matching rounds of 8-under-par 64 on Thursday to share the lead of the HP Classic of New Orleans at English Turn Golf and Country Club.
 
Defending champion K.J. Choi looked poised to grab the first-round lead, but a double bogey at 18 dropped him into a share of third with tour money leader Davis Love III, Jeff Sluman, Stewart Cink, Stephen Ames, Mark Wilson, Scott Verplank and Brian Gay. That group stands at 7-under-par 65.
 
Sadakata flew out of the gate Thursday with a birdie at No. 1, but his play at the second gave an indication of the round that was to come. His drive at the par-5 hole hit a tree and landed in a bunker, where he chunked his second shot. Sadakata then hit a 9-iron to 10 feet and sank the putt for birdie.
 
Sadakata birdied the fourth from 20 feet then collected birdies at the seventh and eighth holes before he reached the par-4 ninth. He knocked a pitching wedge onto the green and didn't see it, but knew by the crowd's reaction that the ball fell into the cup.
 
'I birdied the first two holes and really got to feel comfortable,' said Sadakata, who earned his spot on tour by tying for fifth at the 2002 Q-School. 'I was thinking about the 59, but I didn't go that deep,'
 
Sadakata kept the roll going with a pair of birdies at 12 and 13, but a crosswind influenced his approach at the 16th. His second came up short in a bunker and the ball was close to the lip. He blasted his shot into an adjacent bunker and two-putted for a double bogey.
 
'No, I wasn't frustrated,' said Sadakata, who easily established a new personal best round on tour. 'I wasn't thinking about the double bogey.'
 
Sadakata drained a 15-foot birdie putt at the next hole to get to 8-under and took sole possession of the lead until Stankowski matched him in the afternoon.
 
'I'm getting comfortable to be on tour and play on tour,' said Sadakata, who left his home in Japan at the age of 14 to go to Tampa to pursue golf. 'I don't know what happened, I'm just going to go out there and play my game.'
 
Stankowski did not get off to quite the same start as Sadakata, recording a birdie and a bogey over his first four holes. After his bogey at 4, Stankowski tallied three birdies in a row from the fifth, including a three-footer at five, a 20-footer at six and a beautifully-wedged approach to eight feet at No. 7.
 
Stankowski parred four holes around the turn, but came back with back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13. His play down the stretch gave Stankowski a piece of the first-round lead at this event for the third consecutive year.
 
At the par-5 15th Stankowski drove into the rough, but laid up in a perfect spot and wedged his third four feet. He holed that birdie putt and hit an even better wedge shot at 16 when the ball landed three feet from the stick. Stankowski closed out his round with a 20-foot birdie putt at 17 to join Sadakata atop the leaderboard.
 
'Today was a fun day,' said Stankowski. 'I got off to a good start and kind of hung around, and on the back nine I started a little run. It was good, so it was nice to get things going.'
 
Stankowski may have held a part of the first-round lead the last three years, but he finished tied for 53rd last year and 16th in 2000.
 
'I can't really remember my past few years here other than 61 and 77 the next day,' said Stankowski, referring to his 16-shot collapse from round one to two in last year's event. 'Ninety-six was the first cut I made and I played well the first day.'
 
Choi missed a four-foot putt on the last that would have given him a share of the lead.
 
'Usually when I make double bogey I just try to shake it off right away,' said Choi, who earned his first PGA Tour victory at English Turn last year. 'So I feel like I gave my two shots away early, and I want to play well in the future.'
 
One of Choi's playing partners on Thursday, Phil Mickelson looked poised to be on top of the leaderboard at the end of the day. He collected five birdies in his first six holes, but staggered to a 2-under 70, which is good for a share of 70th.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from the HP Classic of New Orleans
  • Full coverage of the HP Classic of New Orleans