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Published: Friday, 6/3/2005

Sluman gets a grip on the Memorial lead

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DUBLIN, Ohio - Jeff Sluman is something of a traditionalist. Maybe the last guy you'd expect to get gimmicky on a golf course.

But the veteran, a mainstay on the PGA Tour since 1983, recently went to a claw-like putting grip and yesterday it translated into a slew of birdies and an opening-round 65 at the Memorial Tournament.

He's the leader by one shot over Rory Sabbatini while a group of eight players trail by two after authoring 5-under 67s.

What does Sluman call his grip, with his hand rounded atop the putter and two fingers pointing at the cup?

The Claw? Or, like Chris DiMarco, the Gator? Mark O'Meara uses what he calls the Saw.

"It should be called a desperation stroke," he said. "You just have to find a way to get the ball in the hole.

"Yeah, I'm a traditionalist, but I didn't really hesitate to try this. Not when I saw a whole bunch of guys having success with something like it. I wasn't rolling it great. I have been consistently mediocre all year. I mean, we're always searching for something."

Maybe he found it. Still, Memorial officials should hold off on etching his name onto the trophy.

This marks the 12th time in his career that Sluman has either led or shared the lead after the opening round of a tournament. He has never gone on to win one of those events.

The field mounted an all-out assault on Muirfield Village yesterday as 45 of 105 golfers broke par.

The group at 5-under included Australians Nick O'Hern and Adam Scott, Jonathan Kaye, Bo Van Pelt, European Tour player Richard Green, Ohio native Joe Ogilvie, Lucas Glover, and Woody Austin, who shot 31 on the front nine.

Tiger Woods was one of 15 players to shoot a 3-under 69. On the flip side, Vijay Singh, the world's No. 1-ranked player, opened with his worst round of the year, a 77. Defending champ Ernie Els split the difference with a 73.

Sluman managed a 7-under 65, his lowest score in 47 Memorial rounds, despite settling for pars on three of Muirfield's four par-5 holes.

His only top-10 finish this year was at Pebble Beach where he and his pro-am partner, ESPN's Chris Berman, were in the same group as comedian Bill Murray. Yesterday, jokester Peter Jacobson, the defending U.S. Senior Open, was a playing partner.

"Maybe that's what I need," Sluman said.

His new approach to putting certainly helped, too.

"It's new to me, but it really isn't new," he said. "I kept picking at DiMarco's brain and he got it from Skip Kendall, and Skip got it from somebody else. But it turns out it was also in Henry Cotton's book from 100 years ago. He called it the twitch. He used the grip to prevent the twitch stroke, which I guess is what he called the yips back then."

Sluman needed just 24 putts during his round, pouring in efforts from 18, 20 and 40 feet to go along with a chip-in birdie from across the green at No. 8.

"I'm really surprised at how low the scores were when you consider the severity of the rough, the speed of the greens and the fact that the pins weren't set up easy," Sluman said. "What's the PGA's slogan? These guys are good."

Sabbatini, on the other hand, didn't feel as though he hit it all that well.

"I had my C game, but I'll give myself an A in course management," the South African native said. "I was kind of waiting for rain all day and it never came, but the winds were swirling. You couldn't be indecisive with any shots. So I'm pretty happy with a 66."

The wind was a factor early and late. During the middle of the afternoon the breeze diminished as a persistent, misty drizzle settled in over the course.

The fairways had plenty of roll - even Sluman, a short hitter, had four drives measured at more than 300 yards - and the greens were receptive.

"They were softer, not slower," Woods said. "There's a difference. They were plenty fast."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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