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LOVE, CLEARWATER TIE FOR LEAD
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LOVE, CLEARWATER TIE FOR LEAD

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Davis Love III is happy to be back at work and it shows in his first-round performance at the Tour Championship.

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After seven days of ``having fun at home,' Davis Love III finally had to go back to work Thursday.

But once he did, Love proved he was again at the top of his profession. The former UNC All-American shot a 68 on Pinehurst No. 2 to share the lead after the first round of the $2 million Tour Championship.Love, the reigning Kmart Greater Greensboro Open champion, was tied with Keith Clearwater at 3-under par. Both Love and Clearwater have a record of success at No. 2, winning the North & South Amateur here during their college careers.

Another of the front-runners, Craig Stadler, also has a proven record at Pinehurst. He won the Tour Championship last year and opened his defense with a 69 that left him tied with David Frost.

Seven other players managed to better par Thursday, including Greg Norman and Paul Azinger, who used a sand wedge to putt after bending his putter on the 11th hole. But many of the favorites in this elite field had their troubles.

U.S. Open champion Tom Kite and Fred Couples, for example, had 73s while Nick Price and John Cook each shot 74. Each of the latter three are contenders for player of the year honors and could win the money title.

But on Thursday, they played like mere mortals. Couples even resorted to putting crosshanded for the first time, a move which surprised Love, his friend and playing partner.

``(But) you don't like to go to the first hole and say, 'Hey, what are you doing?' and make him think about it all day,' Love said.

Love, on the other hand, was nailing most of his putts - and in a much more conventional manner. A lesson Tuesday from Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist who works at the University of Virginia, gave him confidence on the greens.

``I putted well today, and that was what I was looking for,' Love said.

Saying that, Love was able to put into perspective the 18-inch par putt he missed at the final hole. It cost him sole possession of the lead, but then again, it was just Thursday.

``I saw the replay on television and it just looked sloppy to me,' Love said. ``It looked like a lack of concentration to me. But that was the only one all day where my concentration left me.

``I aimed a little left, and it looked like the toe of my putter was up in the air. Whenever my mom or my brother gives me a putting tip (that's what I've been doing).'

Love did manage to roll in birdie putts of 2, 6, 6, 8 and 25 - as well as a couple of six-foot par saves. He bogeyed 18 with a three-putt and 15, where he missed the green.

``It was kind of a struggle,' Love said. ``On the back nine, I wasn't very sharp (physically) and I didn't expect to be. But I was excited to be playing and I felt mentally sharp.

``I knew I'd (hit some bad shots). But I told myself, 'Don't worry about it. You're rusty. I tried to stay positive and keep my attitude good.'

That ability, Love attributed to his week's layoff from competition. He enjoyed staying home in Sea Island, Ga., so much, Love said he kept ``putting off and putting off' coming to Pinehurst.

``There's a lot to be said for being mentally fresh,' said Love, who commuted from home an hour daily to Ponte Vedra, Fla., when he won the Players Championship earlier this year. ``It was apparent today. Even though I wasn't hitting it great, I was mentally ready.' Imagine what might happen if he puts the two together this week.

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