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Verplank, Six Others Share Vegas Lead

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LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Scott Verplank hobbled his way through some miserable weather last week at the American Express Championship. In the desert, where conditions were perfect, he not only walked better but played better, too.

Verplank, who wasn't even planning to play in the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas, opened with an 8-under 64 Thursday, a score that in most tournaments would have given him the outright lead. In an event that traditionally gives up some of the lowest scores of the year, he had to share it with six others after the first round.

Verplank has been bothered by a severe foot problem this year, but was feeling so good Thursday that it never entered his mind. He made nine birdies against one bogey on his way to the top of the leaderboard.

``It was kind of like playing in a vacuum,'' Verplank said. ``If you execute good, you're going to get good results.''

Joining Verplank at 8 under was Harrison Frazar, who held a piece of the first-round lead for the second week in a row. Kent Jones, Steve Lowery and Billy Mayfair also shot 64s.

Danny Ellis and Jason Bohn shot 63s, but their scores were on the par-71 TPC Canyons course while the others played the par-72 TPC Summerlin and Bear's Best layouts.

The tournament got a new course in the rotation and was shortened to 72 holes this year, but that didn't stop players from making their usual assault on par.

Of the 144 players in the field, 120 broke par, and 42 were within three shots of the lead.

Verplank had such an easy time he didn't miss a fairway all day and had two kick-in putts for birdie.

``I really made it a nice, calm enjoyable 8 under par,'' he said.

Frazar also had an enjoyable day, shooting 32 on both sides while never sniffing a bogey. He reached the par-4 15th with a driver and made a 40-footer for eagle, then followed it with a birdie on the next hole, a par-5 to get to 8 under.

Frazar has won $1.1 million this year, but most of it came by the end of February and he has struggled since with his game. He felt tired and struggled, and tried taking every other week off during the summer to solve his woes to no avail.

Finally, Frazar took nearly a month off before returning last week and shooting a 65 to open the Southern Farm Bureau Classic. He didn't play well on the weekend, but his game was back on in the desert.

``I just started from ground zero,'' Frazar said. ``I took three weeks off and went home and didn't touch a club for two weeks.''

The rest did more for Frazar's attitude than anything else.

``I'm interested in being here,'' he said. ``I'm fresh and rested. I'm happy to be here and I don't feel like I'm going through the motions.''

Ellis was probably the most unlikely name on the leaderboard. He's struggling to retain the card he won in qualifying school last year, and is 150th on the money list with $347,036.

On and off the tour for the last three years, Ellis missed seven of his last 10 cuts, including his last three.

``I've been playing good but I've just been making a lot of bogeys,'' he said. ``Today, I made a lot of birdies. I hit it close and gave myself chances.''
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