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Bryant feeling healthy, takes an early lead
PODS Bryant Golf 3 col BW
Bart Bryant follows his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the PODS Championship golf tournament Thursday afternoon at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Fla. Bryant is the early round leader at six-under-par 65. - photo by Associated Press
    PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Bart Bryant got his bad shots out of the way early and finished with birdies on his last two holes Thursday for a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead among early starters who were lucky to beat the rain in the PODS Championship.
    Bryant was thrilled to twice escape with pars through six holes, and he wasn’t paying that much attention to his card until he realized he was 4 under. Then came birdies on two of the toughest holes at Innisbrook, including a 15-foot birdie on the 18th, and he found himself atop the leaderboard.
    ‘‘I felt like I got my bad stuff out of the way and I was still even par,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘I think that gave me a little confidence.’’
    Ernie Els, coming off a victory in the Honda Classic that ended an 0-for-47 drought on the PGA Tour, was on the sixth hole when the skies darkened, thunder rolled and a siren sounded to stop play.
    It was the first time rain has halted play on the PGA Tour this year.
    Rain earlier in the week took some of the bite out of the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, regarded as one of the toughest tour tracks in Florida, and rarely has it played this easy.
    Kenny Perry hobbled around on a hip that felt like it was shooting volts down his leg, but he managed seven birdies in a round of 66, tied with Jeff Maggert and Stewart Cink.
    Cink was playing for the first time since losing to Tiger Woods at the Accenture Match Play Championship, and while he suffered the worst beating in the 10-year history of the final match (8 and 7), he figured this was a continuation of good play.
    ‘‘I had a lot of confidence after Match Play,’’ Cink said. ‘‘Even losing the last match, I was happy to be in the last match.’’
    Carl Pettersson, who won at Innisbrook in 2005, and Jonathan Byrd were among those at 67. Jerry Kelly was 4 under through four holes when play was halted.
    Perhaps it is not surprising that so many guys in their 40s — Bryant, Maggert, Perry, Tom Pernice Jr. — were atop the leaderboard. This is a course that requires more brain than brawn, and experience tends to come in handy.
    Even the guys with power find themselves throttling back.
    ‘‘You can’t hit too many shots without putting thought into them,’’ Byrd said.
    The good news for Bryant is that he’s hitting shots without feeling too much pain. It seems every time he recovers from one surgery, another body part starts hurting, which was the case last year.
    Bryant said his right hip was in such bad shape that he took two months off during the summer. When he returned, his right elbow was acting up again, and he couldn’t practice the last three months of the season.
    ‘‘No practice, just playing,’’ the 45-year-old said. ‘‘This year, I’ve been able to start hitting balls. My health has been good.’’
    The results are slowly coming along. It was only three years ago that Bryant’s career turned the corner with victories in the Memorial and the Tour Championship, the latter a six-shot victory over Woods.
    Last week at the Honda Classic, he was among the leaders on Friday until taking a quadruple-bogey on the sixth hole that sent him back to the pack. Those big numbers can happen at PGA National, and Bryant wasn’t too bothered.
    ‘‘It showed my game is in the kind of shape that I can get up there at the top,’’ he said.
    Perry, meanwhile, started feeling a sting down his leg only two days ago, which doesn’t affect his swing, only getting around. He is 47 and desperate to win, figuring that will get the attention of Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger.
    The Ryder Cup will be held at Valhalla in Perry’s home state of Kentucky.
    ‘‘I just haven’t had that consistency for four rounds,’’ Perry said. ‘‘I need a win badly.’’
Divots: Kevin Na withdrew after a 76 because of food poisoning. ... Sean O’Hair, who has missed his last two cuts, was followed around by swing coach Steve Dahlby. He was one shot out of the lead until bogeys on his last two holes for a 69. ... Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger four-putted the last hole for double bogey in a round of 79. He had not played since Phoenix.