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Petrovic, Hnatuik Lead at St. Jude

June 28, 2002

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Tim Petrovic finally is getting the hang of the PGA Tour.

The man who turned pro in 1988 but didn’t join the tour until this year shot his best round yet, a 6-under-par 65 Thursday in the first round of the St. Jude Classic.

Petrovic shares a one-stroke lead with Glen Hnatuik in an opening round disrupted by afternoon thunderstorms.

``I’ve been struggling a little bit and really been pushing myself a little too hard,″ Petrovic said. ``I’m just kind of letting myself play this week.″

Rain delayed the round for more than three hours, and play stopped at 8:39 p.m. Thursday just before darkness with 78 players still on the TPC at Southwind course.

The first round concluded at 11 a.m. Friday. The second round started 90 minutes later than scheduled.

John Daly and John Riegger, among those wrapping up the first round Friday morning, turned in 66s and moved into a tie with Justin Leonard, Matt Kuchar, Garrett Willis, Notah Begay and David Howser one stroke behind the leaders.

Jay Haas left his ball in the 17th fairway Thursday night and bogeyed the hole when he returned. He finished with a 67 and was tied with Rich Beem, Edward Fryatt, Boo Weekley, Deane Pappas, Doug Barron and Steve Pete two strokes off the lead.

David Toms and Nick Price were in a group of 16 tied at 68 in the tournament sponsored by FedEx.

After leaving the University of Hartford in 1988, Petrovic had played 11 PGA events through 2001, winning only $16,099. His fortunes didn’t change until last year, when his game finally clicked in his third try at the Buy.Com Tour.

He earned exempt status by finishing seventh on the Buy.Com Tour money list, and he is taking advantage of this latest opportunity. He ranks 131st on the PGA money list with his best finish a tie for 12th at Pebble Beach in February.

``It’s definitely a mental thing,″ Petrovic said. ``Everything on this tour, it’s a little more chaotic. Everything’s a bigger deal.

``You have to budget your time better. There’s just a lot more going on. People are pulling you in all different directions.″

Golfers warned him that his biggest adjustment would come in playing courses he had never seen before, and they were right. All but a few of his 18 starts this year have come on such layouts.

He has made studying greens at the different courses a new habit, trying to figure out slopes and speeds. On Wednesday, he also realized he was standing over his ball with a closed stance, something he adjusted slightly.

That change worked immediately, and he turned in six birdies in his bogey-free round. He wasn’t even bothered when he started his round by missing an 8-foot putt for birdie in heavy rain on No. 10. He was confident enough to use his putter and sink a birdie putt from the fringe after hitting a 9-iron off the green on the par-4 13th.

``Last year I hit the ball well all year,″ he said. ``Today was about the closest I’ve felt to that feeling.″

Hnatiuk, whose best tour finish was a tie for third at the 2000 B.C. Open, has played well this year with his best a tie for eighth at the WorldCom Classic. He hit his short irons almost perfectly, leaving himself putts ranging from 1-to-12 feet.

He birdied two of his first four holes as he stuck a 7-iron within a foot for birdie on No. 11 and followed with an 8-iron on No. 13 to 3 feet. His longest birdie putt was a 25-footer on No. 18, and he had four birdies over six holes starting at No. 2 on his back nine.

``Today the iron game kind of clicked, and I gave myself a lot of good opportunities,″ he said.

Divots: Stankowski had two eagles for his 67 with both coming on par-5s. He eagled the 525-yard third and the 528-yard 16th but had three bogeys. ... Willis’ 66 was his best round of the year. He had a first-round 67 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in a year in which he has missed eight cuts in 17 events and withdrew from four others.

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