Perry shot a bogey-free 66 in rainy conditions.
John Bazemore/AP
Friday, May 16, 2008

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — Coming off a final-round meltdown at the Players Championship, Kenny Perry had every reason to blow up during the water-logged opening round of the AT&T Classic.

How about having to play all 18 holes in a steady rain? Or standing around for a half-hour delay when the showers really got heavy? Or arriving at his final hole, still getting pelted from above, to find a major backup that forced him to linger for another 30 minutes with nothing to do?

Through it all, Perry persevered. He shot a 6-under 66 Thursday to claim a share of the lead at soggy TPC Sugarloaf in suburban Atlanta, though no one played a more impressive round.

``I hit some good shots and made some nice saves coming in,'' Perry said. ``The last few holes were brutal.''

The other leaders - Jonathan Kaye, Ryan Palmer, Jonathan Byrd and Parker McLachlin - all teed off in the morning, before a huge weather system drenched the course. They were the lucky ones.

Byrd was likely watching from his nice, dry hotel room by the time Perry rolled in a 14-footer to save par at the treacherous ninth, his final hole.

``I don't like playing in the rain. I can't think of anybody who does,'' Byrd said. ``It's just not a whole lot of fun.''

Perry can attest to that.

His bogey-free round took some 6 1/2 hours to play, including a 31-minute delay when the rain turned so heavy that play had to be halted. When he got to his last hole, surely looking forward to calling it a day, he came upon a backlog of five groups waiting to tee off - all of them held up by an earlier ruling on Glen Day that took nearly a half-hour to sort out.

``There's five groups here?'' Rich Beem asked incredulously when his threesome arrived.

``Yep, you're the fifth,'' replied Greg Norman, making a rare appearance on the PGA Tour at the course he drew up.

``I guess it's your fault,'' Beem quipped. ``You're the one who designed the place.''

When Perry finally got to play, he flubbed a chip off the mushy ground, slamming his club in disgust. But he rolled in the par-saving putt to close the round with a better feeling.

It was quite a comeback from his previous round. Perry went to the final day of the Players one stroke off the lead, only to shoot 81 and plummet to a tie for 15th.

``I was hitting knuckleballs off the driver,'' said Perry, who ducked under an umbrella every chance he got. ``I have never seen balls do that. But I was able to recover.''

The remaining leaders got to play on an inviting course before the showers moved in and turned Sugarloaf into a water park. Byrd overcame a double bogey at No. 7 with eight birdies, the result of soft greens and not even the hint of a breeze.

``I don't care how hard a course is - if the greens are soft, guys are going to shoot low,'' Byrd said. ``You can get to the flags pretty easy. You know your shots don't have to be as precise because they're hitting and they're stopping.''

Byrd and the others also took advantage of the weak field. Only six of the top 50 players in the world rankings are in Atlanta this week. Stewart Cink was the only top-15 player in the FedEx Cup standings to show up, and he lives in the neighborhood.

``When a lot of the top 20 or 30 guys in the world aren't here, yeah, it gives the other guys more of a chance,'' Byrd said. ``But to win a tournament on the PGA Tour, you've have to play some great golf. I don't care who's in the field.''

The 53-year-old Norman, who has largely given up tournament golf to focus on his various business interests and personal life (he's engaged to former tennis champion Chris Evert), played the familiar layout to warm up for the senior majors this summer.

Even though he knows the course well, it didn't help. Norman shot an 80.

David Duval, the former No. 1-ranked player who's trying to fight his way back from a seven-year slump, is likely to make it 9-for-9 - nine tournaments, nine missed cuts this year - after opening with a 78.

But both Norman and Duval had it better than Franklin Langham, who started out with a 13. Yep, a 13!

Langham, playing on a sponsor's exemption, hit his first four tee shots out of play to the left. He finally struck one sideways after taking a drop from the native brush, leaving him 340 yards from the pin while lying 9 on the par-5 hole.

Before the day was done, he had written down a triple bogey and three double bogeys, his score standing at 22 over when play was mercifully called with one hole to play.

Assuming he returns to finish his round Friday morning, Langham will post the highest score since the tournament moved to TPC Sugarloaf in 1997. A year ago, Michael Boyd opened with an 86. Langham has already taken 90 strokes.

Divots: Langham was among 35 players still on the course when play was called with darkness approaching. ... The five-way tie for the lead is the most in tournament history. The previous record was four after the opening round of the inaugural tournament in 1967. ... Ryan Armour was disqualified.

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