Hidemichi Tanaka Leads Canadian Open

<br>HAMILTON, Ontario (AP) _ Kelly Gibson is glad he packed his bags for the Canadian Open instead of packing it in for good. <br><br>``I played so bad the last tournament that I was ready to quit, honestly,&#39;&#39;

Friday, September 5th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

HAMILTON, Ontario (AP) _ Kelly Gibson is glad he packed his bags for the Canadian Open instead of packing it in for good.

``I played so bad the last tournament that I was ready to quit, honestly,'' the 39-year-old Louisiana player said. ``I was just so down in the dumps.''

Two weeks after missing the cut in the Reno-Tahoe Open with rounds of 76 and 78, Gibson had the only bogey-free round in tricky wind conditions Thursday, a 3-under 67 that left him just a stroke behind leader Hidemichi Tanaka.

``I've really struggled with my game and I'm really happy to have days like today. It's been terrible,'' he said. ``If I could do this for two or three more days, whether I win or not, it would do a lot for my confidence.''

Bouncing back and forth between the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour, he played three straight months before taking last week off.

``I was so burnt out after Reno that if I didn't take a week off they were going to put me in a straitjacket,'' Gibson said. ``I was toast.''

He has played so poorly that he figures there is no percentage in sticking with the Nationwide Tour in a bid to regain full PGA Tour privileges with a top-20 finish on the developmental circuit's money list. He's 103rd on the Nationwide Tour money list with $29,356 in 11 events and 230th in the PGA Tour rankings with $27,211 in nine starts.

``Everybody wants to know why I wouldn't stay over there and play my way into the top 20,'' he said. ``My problem is I'm not playing well and if I have a hot week I'd rather catch it over here than there.''

Tanaka, a nine-time winner on the Japanese tour, had five birdies and bogey on the hilly, tree-lined Hamilton Golf and Country Club course.

``This course is very tough,'' he said through a translator. ``The most important thing is to be patient and put the ball in the fairway. The fairways are very undulating and tricky. Good course management is important.''

Charles Howell III, Brad Faxon, Tom Byrum and Glen Day matched Gibson with 67s, and Tom Lehman, Tom Pernice Jr., Patrick Sheehan, Tommy Armour III, Willie Wood, Jeff Brehaut and Bill Glasson shot 68s. Armour's grandfather, Tommy Armour, won the tournament in 1930, the last time it was played on the historic Hamilton course.

Masters champion Mike Weir, the Canadian star in a tight race with Tiger Woods, U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk and Davis Love III for the PGA Tour's player of the year award, topped an eight-player group at 69.

``On a day like today when the wind is swirling around, not everything pans out the way out want it,'' Weir said. ``The wind switches a little bit and you can be through the green and into the rough. But overall, I'm pretty pleased.''

Only 21 of the 156 players broke par on the picturesque layout on the rim of the Niagara Escarpment, with the morning starters averaging 72.19 strokes and the wind pushing the afternoon mark to 73.51.

``This is a course for people who gripe about technology ruining the game,'' Faxon said. ``This course can stand up to the technology and the power game. Whatever shot you hit off the tee, you better hit it in the fairway.''

Howell had an eagle, five birdies and four bogeys in the afternoon group.

``Obviously, I'm very pleased,'' Howell said. ``With this amount of wind blowing in these trees, it's very difficult.''

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