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PGA Championship Has Foreign Flavor : Golf: Montgomerie of Scotland and Price of Zimbabwe hold one-stroke advantage in Tulsa.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Welcome to Oklahoma. Introductions may be in order.

The first-round lead of the PGA Championship is shared by Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, who thinks Oklahoma was named after a Broadway musical, and Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who thinks an Okie is an old golf club.

Actually, after touring some of the state’s finest golfing real estate in 67 strokes, three under par, Thursday, Montgomerie and Price clearly know quite a bit about Oklahoma, or at least about how to play golf in it.

Montgomerie, who was co-runner-up in the U.S. Open, and Price, the British Open champion, are a shot ahead of the closest of 149 other golfers at Southern Hills Country Club, where the top scores belonged to some of golf’s biggest names.

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Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Ernie Els and Ian Woosnam finished the first round at 68.

Couples, who was two over par after four holes, shot 32 on the back nine, matching the day’s best nine-hole score, but that wasn’t the most impressive thing he did.

He holed a putt from 25 feet off the green at No. 5, using the nose of his putter.

“I use that shot a lot,” Couples said.

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The group at 69 is so crowded, it needs a traffic signal. Included in the mass of golfers are Fuzzy Zoeller, Loren Roberts, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins and Raymond Floyd.

Just about everyone had trouble figuring out Southern Hills, where the fairways are narrow and there is not much rough, but still plenty of challenge.

Start with the greens. They’re on the smallish side, about the size of throw pillows and nearly as soft.

The greens were a lot harder when Price finished his round in the early evening, but they were just as difficult to putt on.

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“I think you’ve probably seen some goofy-looking putts,” he said.

Hard greens hold spike marks, so by the time five or six dozen players had walked all over them, the greens here had so many marks on them, they looked as if they had chicken pox.

“They’re spiking up quite badly,” Montgomerie said. “Some are quite fast and some are quite slow . . . but they’re obviously difficult to hole out.”

Montgomerie’s round featured three birdies, 15 pars and one mild case of sunburn. Actually, it wasn’t nearly as hot Thursday as it was at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Pa., where Montgomerie’s face and neck turned roughly the color of boiled lobster.

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“It was very pleasant today,” he said. “Oakmont wasn’t.”

Oh, yeah, that old Oakmont. It’s where Montgomerie shot himself out of a playoff with a 78 on the extra day when Els came through and won his first major championship.

“I wasn’t disappointed at all in Oakmont,” Montgomerie said. “No one beat me over 72 holes. OK, Monday didn’t go the way I would like it to go.

“And obviously it served me in good stead. I finished eighth at the British Open and I’m in contention after the first round today. Obviously I’m learning something. I don’t know what it is.”

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Mickelson said he, too, has learned something about his game since taking some time off after missing the cut at the British Open.

Whatever he’s doing, though, he’s keeping it a secret.

“I don’t know if it works,” he said. “If it does, I’ll fill you in.”

Mickelson shot 33 on the back nine with birdies on the par-five 13th and an unlikely one on the 468-yard par-four 16th when he hooked his drive and hit a tree, but wound up rolling in a 40-foot putt.

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Mickelson also hit a tree at No. 12.

Watson began his round going the wrong direction. He had two consecutive bogeys and could have been excused if he had wanted to disappear beneath his wide-brimmed hat.

But he didn’t. Instead, he made consecutive birdies on the back side, at Nos. 14 and 15, with putts of 25 feet and 15 feet.

The short putts gave him fits, as usual, like the three-footer he missed on the par-three No. 8. Watson said the spiked greens made for slow putting uphill.

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“If anything, it might give me a little bit of an advantage with the greens in bad shape,” Watson said. “Considering my skills on the greens of late.”

And so it went at Southern Hills, which played a lot harder than most of the golfers had figured it would.

Sam Torrance, another Scot, was frugal but precise with his words in appraising Southern Hills. After shooting 69, he was asked if he liked the course.

“So far,” he said.

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