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1998 Mercedes Championship
Thursday Notes
by Martin Olivera
"Veteran's" Day

This week the expectations have been centered around the young guns. Will Tiger Woods be able to defend his title? Will David Duval make it four in a row? Are Mickelson, Leonard and Els ready to kick off the season with a win? Well, today at least a couple of +40's said "not so fast". The top two finishers today, John Cook (65) and Nick Price (66) played outstanding golf in a day when one third of the field broke 70, and two thirds shot par or better. Cook shot his 7-under playing in the last group, paired with you-know-who. He beat Tiger Woods (72) by seven shots.

It was a fine day at La Costa. The clear skies early in the day were covered with dark clouds in the afternoon, a prelude, it seems, to the rains forecast for tomorrow. A gentle sea breeze made the last four holes ("the longest mile") a bit longer than in the morning. Still, Tiger Woods reached pin-high (left of the green) on #17, chipped on and made a 6-footer for birdie. A routine birdie on a 570-yard par-5.

Cook start birdie-birdie contrasted Woods' par-double bogey. Woods four-putted #2, then bogeyed #4 and #18, while birdieing #8, #9, #15 and #17. Cook had four birdies in the front (#1, #2, #4 and #6), and three in the back (#10, #12, and #13), and hit the ball solid all day. Not bad for someone who hasn't played competitive golf since last November. Most of his practice has been playing 18 holes almost everyday with friends and his son. "Hitting balls is not the same as playing golf", he said, "(Ken) Venturi told me that whatever I work on is not good if I can't take it on the course". And take it he did.

Nick Price caught on fire in the back nine. He birdied #7, and followed it with birdies on #11, #12, #13, #14, and #16. He can't explain it. He took 3 and a half weeks off, played 9 holes the week before coming here, and then a practice round a couple of days ago. On top of that, he is playing with a new set of irons (Goldwin NP 57 blades), a new driver (titanium), and a new ball (the new Precept MC, softer than the Extra Spin he used before). Furthermore, he changed his grip, lengthening his left thumb ("feels good at the top"). But it all seemd to work well today.

The young guys are breathing on the vets' neck. Els (67), Duval (68), Mickelson (68), Stankowski (69) and the rookie Hjertstedt (69) join newzealander Nobilo (67) and Billy Ray Brown (69) atop the leaderboard, below Cook and Price.

Rain will make the course play even longer than its 7022 yards. Long hitters will have the advantage. The game is sure on.