Relaxed Dillard gets off to stunning start 6-under after 6, he finishes at 4-under


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- This was easy for Andy Dillard. It wasn't like trying to get his tour card back after losing it in 1988. It wasn't like those high-pressure matches for money, not to mention survival, back home in Texas.

So what if this was the opening round of the 92nd U.S. Open? So what if this was Pebble Beach, one of the most beautiful and treacherous courses in creation? So what if he was 6-under-par after six holes?

"To be honest, I never felt any pressure," Dillard said. "Starting out, I wanted to get off to a good start. I knew Payne Stewart was playing two groups ahead. Somebody told me that Titleist pays good money if you get your visor on TV, and I figured if I played good, the cameras would come back to me."

Dillard, 30, got plenty of air time yesterday. He became the first player in Open history to birdie the first six holes of the tournament. George Burns made six straight birdies during the first round of the Open in 1982.

So what if he made three bogeys on the first four holes of the back nine? Dillard, who played three years on the PGA Tour back in the mid-80s and later on the Hogan Tour, recovered with a birdie at No. 15 to finish at 4-under 68.

"I've watched enough Opens to know you're going to have a little wreck," said Dillard, who was playing in his first Open after qualifying outside Memphis last week. "You've just got to play within yourself."

Dillard knows about golf wrecks. After playing respectably as a rookie in 1986 -- a fourth-place tie at the Hawaiian Open and a 10th-place finish at the International later that year -- things deteriorated quickly.

The problems extended off the course and Dillard said that a bad personal relationship in 1988 finally caused his once promising game to fall apart entirely. He lost his card and failed by a shot to get it back at Q school. He tried the Hogan Tour, but couldn't make enough money on which to live.

"Ever since I was growing up, I've wanted to play professional golf," said Dillard, who grew up in Tyler, Texas and went to Oklahoma State. "I always felt I had the game to compete with the guys on tour. There have been times in the past year and a half when I didn't have a dime in my bank account, when I didn't know how I was going to make my car payment."

With the help of Ed Gaylord, Jr., son of the former owner of the Texas Rangers, Dillard got out of debt and began his long trek back to the tour. He has spent the past 18 months playing in small tournaments back home and doing a little hustling on the side.

"I'll play anywhere where there's money involved," said Dillard, who qualified for his first PGA event in four years last week, finishing tied for 61st at St. Jude Classic.

Asked if he's made enough money to eat, the 5-9, 210-pound Dillard took a look at himself and laughed. "Obviously," he said.

There's a bit of more money here than what Dillard is accustomed to playing for -- a $1.5 million purse, compared with $3,500 -- and a few more spectators than what he's used to seeing. "I probably played before more people today than I have since 1988 combined," he said.

But there won't be any more pressure today, when Dillard steps onto the first tee, undaunted and not as unknown as he was yesterday. So what if this is the U.S. Open? So what if this is Pebble Beach?

"I've been a lot more nervous playing money games back home," he said.

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