DULUTH, Ga. (AP) – Kevin Sutherland has no interest in dwelling on the weeks that followed his second-place finish at Pebble Beach three months ago.
After shooting a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead in the AT&T Classic on Thursday, he prefers to focus on the immediate future.
“There will be times where – I go back to (Spyglass) and I think shot 63, and then I shot a 67 the next day at Poppy Hills on a very windy, rainy day,” Sutherland said. “There are examples of where I haven’t followed up good rounds with another good round, and there’s examples where I have, so I don’t dwell on that too much.”
Japan’s Ryuji Imada, a former standout at the University of Georgia, eagled his final hole to join Stephen Marino, Tommy Armour III, Bob May and Craig Kanada at 67 on the Greg Norman-designed TPC Sugarloaf.
John Daly, the 1994 winner, withdrew because of a sore shoulder.
Sutherland’s best finish this year came at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he was second to Phil Mickelson despite a final round that included six missed putts inside 8 feet.
The following week, Sutherland finished in a tie for 62nd at the Nissan Open and missed the next two cuts. He’s finished in the money during his last five events, the best coming in a tie for 24th at Wachovia and the worst at New Orleans, where he tied for 80th.
“I’ve made a lot of cuts, but I’ve had streaky rounds where I’ve shot a lot of really good rounds and then some 75s and stuff, which is not normally the way I play,” he said. “But that’s just kind of the way it’s gone this year.”
On Thursday, Sutherland missed five fairways, but he hit 16 greens and had just one three-putt, coming from 22 feet and leading to his lone bogey at the par-4 fifth.
Sutherland’s 8-iron shot hit the lip of the bunker on the par-3 16th and rolled into the sand, but the 42-year-old Californian, who began play on the back nine, holed the bunker shot for the first of three straight birdies.
After hitting a wedge within 5 feet at No. 17, Sutherland reached the 18th green in two shots, leading to the second of his four birdies on the par 5s.
“You’re not going to shoot 65s very often, so it was a lot of fun,” said Sutherland, whose lone victory came at the 2002 Accenture Match Play Championship. “The course is in great shape, and the weather is perfect. The ball is really running down these fairways, so you can get to the par 5s, and I took advantage of all four of them today.”
Imada, who finished in the top 15 of the U.S. Open the last two years, recovered from a double bogey at the par-4 fifth that left him 2 over. A few Georgia fans helped him stay loose with playful Bulldog barks from the gallery.
“It’s always hard to come back from a double, but I love this golf course,” Imada said. “I’ve played well here before, and I knew I could make up. So I didn’t fell all that pressed.”
Imada has made 10 of 15 cuts this year, including a ninth-place finish at the Byron Nelson Championship. He tied for 10th last year at Sugarloaf.
“Today my irons were really good,” Imada said. “I was able to hit shots to a certain area with the right trajectory and right distance, except for maybe 17. I was in the middle of the fairway and I just came over the top a little bit, and it landed pin high and went over the back of the green. I knew I couldn’t do that, but other than that shot, my irons were really good today.”
Dicky Pride, Joe Ogilvie, Mark Brooks and D.J. Brigman shot 68s. Stewart Cink and Henrik Stenson opened with 70s, Masters champion Zach Johnson shot a 71, and Charles Howell III had a 72.
Mickelson, the two-time defending champion at Sugarloaf, stayed home this week after winning The Players Championship last Sunday. Even without Tiger Woods and Mickelson, Sutherland feels no lack of excitement.
“I don’t think about who’s playing and who’s not playing,” Sutherland said. “The main reason is that it doesn’t matter, because I need to play well regardless of who’s there.”
Marino, a regular on the PGA Tour after earning his first card at Q-school last year, credited his ball striking with a solid round that included a nearly disastrous adventure at the par-4 12th hole.
“I hooked it left off the tee into the water, and where I had to drop, there was no way I could go at the green,” Marino said. “So I just chipped it out 20 feet back to the fairway and then wedged in there about 8 feet and made the putt for bogey. I was absolutely thrilled to death.”