US Races to Early Lead in China

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PGA Tour (75x100)SHENZHEN, China -- Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum combined for an 11-under 61 to take a surprise lead after Thursday's first round of the World Cup of Golf in southern China.
 
With 13 other higher-ranked American players declining to play in the team event at the Mission Hills Golf Club, Weekley -- ranked No. 43 on the world list -- and his partner showed the depth of American golf.
 
Alex Cejka and Martin Kaymer of defending champion Germany shot 62 and were a stroke behind. Six other teams were at 63: Finland, Wales, Scotland, South Africa, Thailand and England.
 
Thursday's first round was played under the a better-ball format. But Friday will be tougher with scores sure to soar in alternate shot. Though it's a stroke-play event, match-play rules are in force.
 
Weekley's caddie, Joe Pyle, was detained in Hong Kong on Tuesday, lacking the proper visa to enter mainland China. He arrived Wednesday afternoon.
 
'I walked in at about 6 and he was asleep and he slept all the way until about 4 this morning,' Weekley said. 'He said he was ready to get after it, and that's what we did today.'
 
Both Slocum and Weekley, who attended high school together in Milton, Fla., had eagles. Slocum got his on No. 3, dropping a 25-foot putt. Weekley got his on the par-4 12th when his 6-iron found the hole from 185 yards.
 
Weekley charmed Chinese journalists with his broad, southern drawl. This is his first visit to the country, and one of few outside the United States. He said he missed being away for the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving and would probably be deer hunting this weekend if he weren't in China playing golf.
 
Asked what he knew about China, Weekley replied: 'Not much. Rice. Oh yeah, I knew the Great Wall of China but I thought it was closer.'
 
'We ain't been able to do nothing,' he added. 'We go straight to the motel and straight here, but I know the people here are friendly. It's very nice. They always say 'Hey,' so polite and stuff. That's always a plus when you show up somewhere in a foreign country.'
 
One journalist suggested the United States was criticized for not sending its top players.
 
'I thought they sent the best team,' Weekley joked.
 
England is the pre-tournament favorite with Justin Rose and Ian Poulter: it is the only of the 28 teams to have both players ranked in the top 20.
 
The English duo hoped to restore some English pride on a dark day for the national soccer team, which fired its coach a day after failing to qualify for the European championships.
 
Poulter and Rose both dressed in red and white outfits, showing off the colors of England's flag even after the soccer flop.
 
'I definitely wasn't going to wear all black, that's for sure,' Poulter said.
 
Although this event dates from 1953 -- Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have all won it -- it's had trouble getting traction. After being part of the World Golf Championships, it was cut loose after last year and begins a 12-year run at Mission Hills as an event co-sanctioned by all the major golf tours, including the United States and Europe.
 
U.S. PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said by moving to a permanent venue, he hoped the top American players might be attracted to play -- perhaps including No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 2 Phil Mickelson.
 
Even prize money of $1.6 million to the winning team was not enough to lure players like Woods. The total prize money is $5 million.
 
'The competitors are not members of a labor union. They are not under contract to play,' Finchem said. 'They can go and play as they choose.'
 
The last high-profile pair to win the event was Retief Goosen and Ernie Els in 2001. Woods won in 1999 with Mark O'Meara and a year later with David Duval.
 
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