The controversy over compensating players for participating in the upcoming Ryder Cup did not seem to have the least bit of an effect on Tiger Woods or David Duval, two of the most prominent players in the eye of the storm, today at the 81st PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club.

Duval and Woods both said it was almost a relief to get away from all the Cup questions and play golf and each navigated a soggy course at 2-under-par 70, leaving them in a group of 14 players who are four shots off the first-round lead posted early this evening by 19-year-old Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia.

"El Nino," the heir apparent to countrymen Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, tied the course record with a 6-under 66, three weeks after playing the first two rounds of the British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland, in 30 over and missing the cut.

"I want to say one thing," said Garcia, who is the youngest player to lead this tournament since stroke play began in 1958. "I think I proved myself today and the British Open is done. I don't want to hear any more questions about the British Open. At the British Open, everything went wrong. . . . Today, everything went right."

Garcia had five birdies and no bogeys on a dark, gloomy day punctuated by heavy showers early and a 47-minute lightning delay in the late afternoon. He has a two-shot lead over Jay Haas, playing in his 21st PGA Championship, J.P. Hayes, who missed the cut last year in his only appearance, and Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, who is playing in his first PGA.

Because of the rain delay, 15 players failed to finish the first round. Among them was Corey Pavin, who was at 3 under with two holes to play. They will resume at 8:45 a.m. Friday.

This was a day of dawn-to-dusk golf in which most players slogged around in 5 1/2-hour rounds filled with long waits between shots. Yet, the Cup controversy lingered 42 days before play begins at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

Duval and Woods, ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively, have advocated providing Cup players funds to be designated to charities and were the object of stinging criticism from U.S. team captain Ben Crenshaw on Wednesday, along with several other players. Crenshaw, the traditionalist, believes playing for flag and country is compensation enough.

Crenshaw had said he was "personally disappointed" in several unnamed players, "and it burns . . . me to listen to some of their viewpoints."

Crenshaw later said he was talking about some views expressed in a meeting Tuesday between 16 potential Cup players and executives of the PGA of America and PGA Tour. He told the Boston Globe the four players were Woods, Duval, Mark O'Meara and Phil Mickelson, all of whom have advocated player-designated charitable contributions from the $23 million profit the Cup will generate this year.

Said Mickelson: "I'm disappointed something was leaked. Ben hasn't expressed anything to me. I'm sorry he chose to use the media as a forum."

Crenshaw backed off today, saying, "I hope the people that seemed to be singled out know it's nothing personal. My philosophy sort of bubbled over. What I want, and I'm sure I'm going to get it, is 12 committed players going to Boston. That's why I was frustrated yesterday. It was my mistake."

Woods and Duval both said they had spoken to Crenshaw, and understood his point of view. Duval also said he was surprised he was one of the four players on Crenshaw's list "because I only said about 10 words during that meeting. Ben is as entitled to his opinion as I am. We just disagree. . . . I don't fault him or blame him for that.

"Some of the things written and said do not accurately portray what I've said. I did use the word exhibition [for the Cup] and that might have been a poor choice of words. . . . But it does seem like a pretty large corporate outing."

Woods also refused to back down from his description of the Cup as an exhibition, asking, "Is there a winner's check? Pros are pros. The Ryder Cup started as an exhibition, why isn't it now? It's exactly what it is. . . . In the spirit of the game, it is an exhibition. Unfortunately it's not played in that manner."

Tom Lehman, now No. 11 in Cup point standings and needing a high finish this week to automatically make the team, said he was not the least bit surprised by Crenshaw's strong words on the eve of the tournament.

"The last thing a team needs is to be seen as greedy, spoiled, whiny, wimpy brats," he said after he finished his round of 70. Later in the media tent he added, "I think we just ought to move on."

Meanwhile, Duval and Woods looked far more comfortable speaking with their respective sticks in their hands than they did standing in front of cameras and microphones.

Woods, who had decent chances to win both the U.S. and British opens in the last five weeks, continued to have problems on the greens. On his front side today, he missed birdie putts of four, six and eight feet, failed to save par at the second hole when he missed a 10-footer, then missed from 12 feet at the 12th after his second shot hit a tree.

He made three birdies in his next five holes, however, and finished with a 30-footer in the heart of the cup accompanied by a thunderous roar from the huge gallery around the 18th green.

"Overall, I'm very pleased," Woods said. "I hit a couple of loose shots, but I recovered from those. It was a tough day out there, but I've got to hang in there and keep persevering because this is a major championship. The guys are not going to go extremely low because the conditions are a little difficult."

Duval made the turn at 2 under after birdies at the first and fifth holes, then made one of the more remarkable birdies of the day at the 583-yard 14th. His tee shot went into the woods down the left side and he had only a sliver of an opening to advance his ball through two tall trees about 20 yards in front of him.

Duval picked out a 4-iron and his shot hit a few leaves but soared out of danger and bounced down the middle of the fairway 150 yards from the green. His third-shot wedge landed 25 feet from the hole, and he made the birdie putt to get to 3 under. He followed with two bogeys, then made a 15-footer for birdie at the 206-yard 17th before parring the last.

Garcia, who ate a ham-and-cheese sandwich during the 47-minute break, came out of the locker room invigorated. He almost birdied the 15th, then took the outright lead with birdies on two of his last three holes, making a six-footer at the 445-yard 18th.

"What can I say," he said. "I just played great."

Scores on Page D11