Paul Azinger, still trying to recover from the tragic deaths of close friend Payne Stewart and two associates, shot a 7-under-par 63 yesterday for a three-stroke lead over seven players after the first round of the Sony Open in Honolulu.
Starting on the back nine of the 7,060-yard Waialae Country Club course, Azinger birdied three of the four par-4s and then used a 7-wood and a 3-wood on the longest hole on the ocean-side course, the 551-yard 18th, to get within three feet to set up an eagle to make the turn at 5-under 30.
On the back nine, he had a birdie on No. 5 to complete his bogey-free round.
"I had a pretty tough offseason," said Azinger, who himself faced adversity when he was stricken with lymphoma in his right shoulder in 1993. "I didn't play for a while and just wanted to make sure I would come back focused."
Azinger was referring to the deaths last October of Stewart and his managers, Robert Fraley and Van Ardan. All were killed in a plane crash in South Dakota.
Azinger's closest pursuers at 4-under 66 included Jim Furyk, who won this tournament in 1996 when it was known as the Hawaiian Open; John Cook, another Hawaiian Open titlist; Stuart Appleby and 1999 qualifying school graduate Ben Bates.
* LPGA: Karrie Webb made a birdie on her first hole of the 2000 season, wound up with a 7-under 65 for the first-round lead in the Office Depot pro-am and showed that she could be up for an encore to last year's record-setting season.
Webb had eight birdie putts inside 15 feet on the Heritage course at Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., to take a two-stroke lead over Juli Inkster and Liselotte Neumann.
"I was surprised how well I hit the ball when I started practicing again last Thursday," Webb said.