Beckman takes lead at MCI Heritage

Friday, April 16, 2004

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Cameron Beckman handled the windy conditions at the MCI Heritage on Thursday, shooting a 4-under-par 67 for the highest leading score in opening round at the Harbour Town Golf Links since 1992.

Beckman made a 16-foot birdie putt on his last hole, the ninth, to complete his round at the 6,973-yard, par-71 seaside layout that often yields spectacular rounds.

The problem Thursday was the wind.

"It's really hard with the wind the way it was," said Nick Price, who shot a 69. "It's difficult to pick the right club."

For Beckman, the right club was the putter:He had 12 one-putt greens and carded five birdies.

and five birdies

Two years ago, Davis Love III, the defending champion and a five-time winner of the event, opened with a 62. In 2001, Vijay Singh and Doug Dunakey posted 65s to share the first-round lead. The last time the opening-round leader had a 67 was in 1992, when Love grabbed the early lead and went on to win the event.

The problem Thursday was winds that reached 10 mph.

"You feel that breeze out there?" said Jonathan Byrd, who was tied with Heath Slocum, British Open champ Ben Curtis, Rod Pampling and Jay Haas at 68.

"If you're having trouble judging the wind, it makes it difficult," Byrd said.

Apparently, many golfers couldn't figure out the strong winds.

Boats bobbed in the rough water and whitecaps whipped around Callibogue Sound off the 18th green. Flags snapped against poles in the strong breeze.

Nick Price, the 1997 winner at Harbour Town, was at 3-under after making a birdie on the par-3 17th hole. But his approach to the famous No. 18 lighthouse hole from 208 yards stopped 30 yards short in a sand trap. Price made bogey and fell into large group at 69 that included Masters runner-up Ernie Els.

"It's really hard with the wind the way it was," Price said. "It's difficult to pick the right club."

Els struggled while playing for the first time since his agonizing loss to Phil Mickelson at Augusta National last week. Els was steady enough with three birdies and a bogey, but felt drained just four days after the first major of the year.

"It's not the easiest thing always, but you better get yourself motivated," said Els, who's had three top 10s in his last four trips to Hilton Head.

Love's attempt at a sixth MCI Heritage title got off to a rocky start with a 1-over 72, which included a double bogey on the par-3 14th after he chipped into the water. The score matched his highest in his last 17 rounds at Harbour Town, but Love was still in contention on one of his favorite courses.

Beckman had a difficult time explaining the reason for the high first-round scores. He thought the conditions were more than adequate to go low.

"I'm really confused the scores aren't better," he said.

Beckman should know how fickle this layout can be. Two years ago, he had a second-round 63 and played in the final group Sunday. But he shot a 78 in the last round and placed 19th.

That likely won't happen again if Beckman putts like he did this time.

He had 12 one-putt greens and five birdies, including a 38-footer on the 13th hole. Beckman said he "putted like a little kid today. It was a blast."

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