Southern Route Gives Edge to Watson's 63 : Golf: He plays tougher of two courses at Torrey Pines. Faxon, Wrenn shoot 63 on North.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brad Faxon, like Robert Wrenn, had just solved Torrey Pines North with a nine-under-par 63 to grab a share of the first-round lead Thursday in the Buick Invitational.

A PGA official, however, pointed to the leader board: "Tom Watson is also nine under," he said. "On the South."

Faxon took an emphatic swipe at his hair after removing his cap. "Wow," he said. "On the hard course."

Faxon and Wrenn might be tied for the lead, but they know they are chasing Watson, who matched the South course record set by Tommy Nakajima in 1984.

"The North is at least two and close to three shots easier than the South," said Faxon, who must travel South today while Watson goes North.

Wrenn agreed. "I would say it's easily two to three shots easier," he said. "On the North, you got (par-fives on Nos.) 9 and 18, which virtually everybody in the field can knock it on in two with an iron. On the South, the par fives aren't nearly as reachable."

The South is more than 400 yards longer than the North, and it will be used for all golfers Saturday and Sunday. Of the 24 players who finished five under or better Thursday, 19 played the North. A total of 62 golfers broke par on the North.

Watson, who won here in 1977 and 1980, finished one stroke off the nine-hole record on the South with a six-under 30 on the front side.

"This was the lowest round I've shot in probably 10 years," Watson said. "This is the first time my kids have ever followed me around. I think I put a little pressure on myself to play very well in front of my kids.

"Unfortunately I spoiled the heck out of them. On the other side of the coin, I might have to get a tutor and bring them on the tour with me if this is the way I'm going to play in front of my kids."

Watson, 42, has not won a tour event since 1987, and he failed to make the cut here last year. But Watson said he has been working on his swing recently, and he has found a cheerleader in practice partner Lanny Wadkins.

"Lanny said I might have a chance to start winning some tournaments the way I was swinging," Watson said. "I brought that confidence with me this week, and I hope I can continue doing what I'm doing."

If so, be advised that the tournament record is 22 under by George Burns in 1987. Like Watson, Burns opened play with a 63--but on the North.

"It might be a slim advantage as far as doing it on the South course as opposed to the North," Watson said. "The North is a little bit easier, but I don't care, I'll take a 63 any time I play. I don't care where I do it."

Faxon, who tied for second here in 1989, plugged his second shot in a green-side bunker on the par-four 11th hole, but he holed his next shot for a birdie.

"That was a momentum builder," said Faxon, who shot a 74 in last year's final round after trailing the leaders by one a day earlier. "Obviously, this has been a place where I have played pretty good in the past. It's nice to come back with everyone telling you this is your place. But I'd like to go away with a win sooner or later."

Wrenn finished fourth here last year, tied with Steve Pate, who finished one back of the leaders Thursday with a 64 on the North. And like Pate, Wrenn said he has been a member of the Torrey Pines fan club.

"I've been playing out here in San Diego since 1982," Wrenn said. "I've developed some friendships here over the years, and quite honestly it's one of my top two or three favorite tournaments of the year. Torrey Pines to me is kind of like the Carmel of Southern California.

"As they say in billiards, I ran the tables today. Driving has been the worst part of my game, but I shortened the length of my driver at the first of this week, and I feel 100% better. If I can find the fairway a little bit more often, I might get dangerous every now and then."

Pate won here in 1988, and he took the lead into last year's final round before dropping back with a 74.

"I played well here a lot," Pate said. "I don't know why, but I feel right at home. There's no surprises for me out here anymore except for this year--I've never seen the course in such good condition."

Australia's Steve Elkington also has found Torrey Pines to his liking. He tied for second in 1989 and placed fourth in 1990. Elkington, who opened the season winning the Tournament of Champions at La Costa, went seven under for the day's second-best effort on the South, and was tied with Marco Dawson.

"I was overly pleased with my score, particularly with it coming on the South course," Elkington said. "As good luck as I've had in San Diego this year, I might just live here soon.

"I feel so comfortable here. This course reminds me so much of Australia. It's almost identical, the grass and trees, and then you've got the coastline. The only thing you don't have is the kangaroos."

A group of nine golfers, each having played the North, finished three strokes behind the leaders at 66. John Cook, a two-time winner on the tour already in 1991, posted a 67 on the South to top another group of nine, including local golfer Scott Simpson and PGA player of the year in 1991, Fred Couples.

Tom Weiskopf, who is making a comeback in preparation for playing on the senior tour, finished at 68 on the North, as did Craig Stadler.

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