Roberts Holds Early Lead at Western Open

Friday, July 2nd 2004, 5:59 am
By: News On 6

LEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ Loren Roberts shot a bogey-free 7-under 64 Thursday, matching his best round of the year, and held on for the first-round lead at the Western Open.

``I played real solid, tee to green,'' Roberts said. ``I hit the ball extremely well as far as putting it where I wanted it and hit a lot of greens. I drove the ball in the fairway just about every hole. If you're going to make some putts, it equates to a low score.''

Former champion Robert Allenby is one stroke back after birdies on his last three holes, the only one to make a charge in the afternoon.

Reigning British Open champion Ben Curtis leads a group three strokes back at 4-under 67. Defending champion Tiger Woods broke out a new, graphite driver with a larger club head, but it wasn't the answer for his sluggish game. He closed out a lackluster round with a bogey on the final hole, finishing at 1-under 70.

``I didn't play very well today,'' Woods said. ``It's kind of how it's been. I get off to a great start, kind of lose it in the middle, then get it back. I just can't put it all together.''

Roberts, on the other hand, had his whole game clicking.

Roberts was in contention for his first win in two years three weeks ago at the Buick Classic, leading after 54 holes. But the man called the ``Boss of the Moss'' for his brilliant putting touch had some rare struggles on the greens the final day, leading to a 78 that dropped him into a tie for 16th.

So he went home and worked on his putting, and the extra effort paid off Thursday.

``I didn't hit anything real close to the hole, but I was very good in the 12- to 15- to 18-foot range with the putter,'' he said. ``I made several of those, including a couple for pars in probably that 10- to 12-foot range, which really kept the round going.''

One of his best was on the first hole, when he ran a 35-foot putt about eight feet past the hole and made the comeback to save par.

``That was a critical thing,'' he said. ``That kind of set the tone.''

He had four birdies on the front nine, including a 20-footer on the par-4 No. 7, and three more on the back. He saved par again to close his round, making a tough, uphill 10-footer on the slick 18th green.

``That was another key for me,'' he said. ``It would have really left a bad taste in my mouth to bogey the last hole.''

Instead, Roberts had the lead and headed into the clubhouse to see if it would hold up. Except for Allenby, no one made much of a run.

``I can't understand why there's not more (low) scores,'' Allenby said. ``The golf course is set up perfectly today for shooting low scores.''

It looked early on as if Woods might make a charge, with birdies on Nos. 3 and 4. But he got in trouble on the par-3 sixth hole, pulling his tee shot left and into the slope of a bunker.

His second shot wasn't much better, landing on the opposite side of the trap. Woods finally blasted out, but the ball stopped within a foot of the hole and he was forced to tap in for a bogey.

He saved par on the next hole after putting his drive deep into the gallery, but he wasn't so lucky on No. 8. His tee shot hit the right side of the fairway and took a vicious hop, diving into a cluster of bushes.

Woods took the penalty drop, then put that shot into the bunker on the left side of the hole. He blasted onto the green, but the ball ran 15 feet past the hole. Two putts later, he had a double-bogey that put him at 1 over for the day.

He rallied with three birdies on the back nine, including a 19-foot putt on 17 that got him to 2 under. But his par putt on the 18th banged the edge of the cup and skipped out, leaving him with a bogey.

``Just keep playing,'' Woods said when asked what he'll do Friday. ``Hopefully give myself more opportunities and make putts when I do have those opportunities.''