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Birdies aplenty in first round of Hope Classic

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — On a day when just six of the 128 players in the field were over par, it's little wonder Pat Perez wasn't overly impressed by his 61.

"Because the number is 30 under, 30 plus. You don't try to get there too fast, you try to get there over five days," Perez said Wednesday after his opening 11-under at the Palmer Course at PGA West was good for only a one-shot lead in the ultra low-scoring Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

When conditions for the Hope remain perfect like they were for the first round, it takes something in the 30-under range to win. The record for the 90-hole tournament is 36-under by Joe Durant in 2001.

The opening day featured a binge of 706 birdies - an average of 5.5 per player.

Putting his 61 into perspective, Perez said, "So yeah, it's nice, it's a good round, the conditions are perfect. That's all."

He acknowledged, though, that after a 28 on his front nine, he thought he had a good shot at the PGA Tour record of 59, last matched by David Duval on the same Palmer Course when he wrapped up the 1999 Hope title.

"I was thinking 58 for sure," Perez said. "I can't believe it. It's the second year now I've been right there and I haven't been able to do it."

Perez, who holds a one-shot lead over 2003 champion Mike Weir and Bubba Watson, shot a first-round 60 three years ago in the desert tournament, then struggled the rest of the way and wound up 73rd. He had a second-round 61 in 2003, when he finished in a sixth-place tie.

Briny Baird, Ben Crane, Jason Dufner, Richard Johnson, Taylor Vaughn and David Berganio Jr. shot 63s. Chris DiMarco was in a three-way tie for 10th at 8-under. Defending champion D.J. Trahan and Steve Stricker, whose No. 16 world ranking makes him the highest-ranked player in the field, were in a group tied for 13th at 7-under.

The 32-year-old Perez, still looking for his first PGA Tour win, has a spotty history at the Hope, with the tie for sixth his best showing in five previous appearances. He missed the cut in 2002 and 2004, and skipped the event the past two years.

He said he was back because The Classic Club, a course a few miles from La Quinta in an area where the wind can be brutal, was dropped from the Hope rotation after being used for three years.

In 2006, Perez followed his first-round 60 at PGA West with a wind-swept 73 at The Classic Club, then shot a 78 on a chilly, gusty day there in the final round.

"I shot 60 that year and I had the first tee time the next morning and it was blowing a hundred," Perez said. "I said, `How the heck can you put a golf course where a thousand windmills are?' I hit the first ball in the water and almost got in the car and drove home."

He said he wasn't even trying to score well during the final round at the Classic Club that year.

"I actually was going to try and be the first guy ever in a tournament to shoot 60, 70 and 80, right on the button," Perez quipped. "(But) I actually hit a good shot finally in the middle of the green and made a birdie and shot 78.

"I just wanted to get out of there."

Weir and Watson also played this year's opening round at the Palmer Course, one of four used for the pro-am portion of the tournament the first four days. The players rotate among the courses, and the low-scoring 70 pros and ties play Sunday's final round on the Palmer Course.

Weir called his own 10-under round "solid," then stood corrected.

"Maybe that wasn't the best word to use," he said with a grin. "It was a great round. But I played solidly."

When the field was backed up at the turn and he had to wait some 40 minutes, Weir took it in stride, going to the clubhouse to relax before he teed off again.

Asked if the wait was frustrating, he shook his head.

"No. I made six more birdies. I just relaxed and had a sandwich and salad and it was all right," he said.

Durant got off to a considerably slower start than the year he won, with his 1-over 73 leaving him in a tie for 123rd. The other five over par during the first round were Lee Janzen, Kelly Troy, James Nitties and Peter Tomasulo at 1-over, and Brad Faxon at 5 over.

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