Stuart Appleby was back on top of the leaderboard at the Houston Open yesterday in Humble, Texas, with the same first-round score that propelled him to a six-shot victory last year.
He wasn't as excited about his 6-under-par 66 this time, because he knows he isn't playing as well as he was a year ago.
Kevin Sutherland and rookie Johnson Wagner, who was born in nearby Amarillo, also shot 66s to share the first-round lead. Like Appleby, they teed off in the morning, before gusty wind kicked up and made the 7,457-yard Tournament Course at Redstone more challenging.
Texans Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert, and Bob Estes were in a group of six players one shot back after 67s. Estes had the lowest round of the afternoon starters.
Appleby hasn't won since Houston last year and has only one top-30 finish in seven starts in 2007. The Australian birdied three of his first four holes in the early morning, when conditions were calm.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the Houston Open was chosen as the event before Masters week because of the course's similarities to Augusta. It's slotted as the Masters warm-up through 2012.
"If this course stays soft, it will be very easy, which is not Augusta," said Appleby. "If it plays firm, fast and windy, it will make us think more Augusta thoughts."
Most of the top players bypassed Houston and headed straight to Augusta, Ga., leaving the Houston Open without stars such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, and three-time champion Vijay Singh.
Appleby added three birdies on his back nine, but said the round was rougher than his score revealed. He missed seven fairways, finding a bunker with his tee shot on the par-5 fourth that led to a bogey.
Appleby still easily broke 70 for the first time this year, scoring well despite playing what he called his "C" game.
European -- Simon Dyson of England shot a 4-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Estoril Open in Cascais, Portugal.
Dyson, who won the Indonesia Open and the KLM Open in 2006, eagled the 16th hole and had three birdies. Scotsman Stephan Gallacher, Englishman Ross McGowan, and South African Louis Oosthuizen all had 68s.