A four-under 68 in the opening round at Greystone Golf and Country Club sees Padraig Harrington a shot off the lead at the Champions Tour’s first major, with Darren Clarke’s one-under 71 good for a tie for 28th.
Birdies at two and nine saw the three-time major winner and reigning Senior US Open champion make the turn at -2, and he’d add three more birdies on the back nine, with a bogey-four at 17 the only blemish on his card.
Earlier in the day, Darren Clarke matched Harrington’s haul of five birdies, but as has been the case for much of the year, bogeys proved costly and he’d end the day part of a ten-strong group at -1.
The trio of Billy Andrade, Timothy O’Neill and Paul Broadhurst lead the way on -5, with the star-studded quarter of Harrington, Ernie Els, defending champion Steve Stricker and Ken Duke one shot adrift.
Andrade arrived in Birmingham, Alabama hot on the heels of a successful sectional qualifier that saw him secure a US Open berth, and his strong play continued at Greystone.
“It’s a 72-hole tournament,” he explained when asked if a good opening round was a prerequisite for contention on Sunday. “We normally play 54-hole events and when it’s that type of tournament it’s a sprint, you have to get off to a good start and you have to shoot low the first day to give yourself an opportunity to win.
“Out here, a 72-hole tournament it’s not a sprint, it’s not really a marathon either, but when you know that around 20-under is the score you have to shoot you have to go out and play well every day. You can maybe make it up if you get hot and have a really low number one day. The golf course is in perfect shape, greens are spectacular and fast if you get it above the hole. Overall these are the best Champions Tour players in the world and these guys are going to get hot every day.”
Alex Cejka is among a six-strong group at -3 that includes Bernhard Langer, and the two-time Senior major winner feels that the winning total will be extremely low, despite nobody scoring in the early sixties on day one.
“This course is there for the taking,” he said. “Today was a little bit tricky with the wind, if it’s there’s a little less wind, no rain, and there’s good conditions then it’s there for the taking. This tournament is four rounds so everyone is thinking, 3, 4, or 5 under every round, so you were right that around 20-under par will win. You can’t play too defensive, you have to go out there and hit some good drives, and make a lot of putts.”
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