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Azinger shares lead in Buick Classic

Bradenton's Paul Azinger returned from a lengthy break with a performance he couldn't quite figure out, but one that was good enough to tie for the lead Thursday in the Buick Classic. "Sometimes it was pretty, and sometimes it was pretty ugly _ Jekyll and Hyde stuff," Azinger said of his opening round 5-under 66.

He was tied for the top with Chris Perry and a couple of golf's walking wounded, Fulton Allem and Brad Bryant.

Bryant, 36, who has yet to win in a 14-season career, described his physical condition as "a mess," while Allem was so troubled by a back problem he once was forced to stretch out prone on a fairway.

Hale Irwin, 46, who won this event and the U.S. Open on consecutive weeks last year, led a group of eight at 67, 4-under and one off the pace.

Azinger, who has played only once in the last six weeks, said he was "nervous, champing at the bit" on the first tee, and converted that anticipation into a 31 over the front side.

But he 3-putted twice coming home and had to birdie the 17th from 10 feet to gain a place among the leaders.

In other events

Senior Players Championship: When defending champion Jack Nicklaus stumbled at the start, it signaled the rest of the pack to charge for the front in the first round of the tournament in Dearborn, Mich.

When the round was over, unknown club pro Jim Albus was the leader at 6-under-par 66, two shots ahead of Gay Brewer, Bobby Nichols, Don Bies and Al Geibeiger, all of whom were tied at 68.

Nicklaus had hoped to use this tournament as a tuneup for next week's U.S. Open. But he bogeyed three of the first five holes and never recovered, finishing at 77.

NCAA Championships: Oklahoma State vaulted from a sixth-place tie to the top spot in the tournament at Pebble Beach, Calif., recording an 8-under 280 for a total of 580. Florida is in ninth place at 598. Senior Pat Bates is tied for third in the individual competition at 143. Georgia's Franklin Langham leads by one shot at 141.