Perry, Goosen share Sony lead
by DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) -- Kenny Perry has been in shock at the Sony Open.
He was hitting balls last week in Kentucky in weather so cold that he had to wear thermal underwear and two sweaters. When he got to Waialae Country Club on Monday, he lasted about 30 minutes on the practice range before the tropical weather wore him out.
The real surprise came Thursday.
Major swing changes were put to test in the first round, and Perry couldn't believe the results. A right-to-left player his entire career, he was hitting it anywhere he wanted on command, and finished tied for the lead with South Africa's Retief Goosen at 6-under 64.
``I've been working on some new shots, and my caddie said this would be a practice-round week,'' Perry said. ``All of a sudden, I started executing some flawless shots. Next thing you know, I'm shooting 30 on the back nine for a 64.
``This was highly unexpected.''
The only thing that should not have surprised him was his position. A year ago, Perry opened with a 65 and was tied for the lead.
All he wants to do now is finish better -- he tied for 23rd last year. That might be a tall order, especially with so many others continuing to play well.
Goosen tied for fourth last week at Kapalua, and finished off his 64 with a 3-iron from 247 yards into 12 feet for an eagle on the 18th hole.
One stroke behind going into the second round were Chris DiMarco, Brendan Pappas and Chris Riley, who has shot 65 in the first round his last three tournaments in Hawaii.
And then there's the Big Easy.
Ernie Els, known as the Big Easy, won the Mercedes Championships last week by eight shots, setting a PGA Tour record in relation to par at 31-under.
He had a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle stretch in the middle of his round to briefly share the lead, and ended up with a 66. Els had to remind himself it was a good score.
Indeed, for the 25 players who started their season last week in the winners-only Mercedes Championships, some adjustments were in order.
Goosen watched the palm fronds waving in the ocean breeze as he tried to gauge the strength and direction of the wind. That was rarely an issue last week, when there was hardly any wind over four days.
There are only two par 5s at the par-70 Waialae Country Club, which features tight landing areas and small greens. That's a big change from the par-73 Plantation Course with its spacious fairways and massive greens.
``Par is a good score, and a bogey doesn't kill you,'' Charles Howell III said after opening with a 70. ``Last week, a bogey felt like a triple bogey.''
Blame that on the wind, the best defense at Kapalua. It began to kick up just north of Waikiki Beach, and it made players work for their scores.
Still, no one made more adjustments than Perry.
The 42-year-old has had a solid, but not spectacular career. Perry has won four times, lost a major championship in a playoff ('96 PGA) and has never finished out of the top 100 on the money list.
While he feels he is getting better with age, Perry hit the wall.
``I've always been a one-dimensional player,'' he said. ``I seem to have gotten to a level, and I couldn't get better. I've played really well for 17 years. I've knocked on the door a few times, but I want to knock a few more times.''
He got instant gratification Thursday.
Perry hit knockdown shots. He hit cut shots into the wind. He hit draws and fades, whatever kind of shot he wanted. They usually stopped close to the pin.
His round turned at No. 9, when he holed a 20-foot eagle putt to finally get under par.
``That opened up the hole,'' Perry said, who then took off with five birdies over his final eight holes for a 64.
It wasn't his best score on the PGA Tour. He had a 62 at the Bob Hope Classic and at Tucson, a 63 at Muirfield Village and Riviera.
But this one felt different.
``It was the easiest round I've ever had,'' he said. ``I didn't have a lot of expectations. You take eight weeks off, you don't know how sharp you're going to be.''
And when you change your swing, you don't always know what's going to happen. That's what made Thursday's round such a surprise.
``It worked today,'' he said.
``Maybe it's something new,'' he said. ``It might not work any more, but it worked today.''
Perry had plenty of company.
Eighty-one players in the 144-man field shot par or better, and there was a blend of veterans and rookies dotting the leaderboard.
Aaron Baddeley, the 21-year-old who won the Australian Open twice as a teenager, had a 66 in his first PGA Tour event without a sponsor's exemption -- he earned his card last year through the Buy.com Tour.
Andy Miller, the 23-year-old son of Johnny Miller, bogeyed his first hole and then buckled down to shoot 67.