MICHAEL DARDEN / WEST HAWAII TODAY*
Tom Watson was one of three players to shoot a 9-under 63.
Seniors go low at Hualalai
Three golfers tie the course record in the first round of the MasterCard Championship
KA'UPULEHU, Hawaii » If you didn't shoot under par during yesterday's opening round of the $1.7 million MasterCard Championship at Hualalai you were on the last page of the leaderboard.
Tom Watson, Loren Roberts and Don Pooley led an all-out assault on the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that was left defenseless with little or no breeze to protect it from the 50-and-over set.
All three shot 9-under 63s to equal the course record held by Craig Stadler, Tom Kite and Fuzzy Zoeller on a picture-perfect day at Hualalai Golf Club. Roberts and Watson had excellent opportunities to go 10 under at the 18th, but left their birdie putts just short of the hole.
Pooley made his 15-footer at the closing hole to join Watson and Roberts as first-day leaders on an afternoon where 27 golfers shot 69 or better and only two didn't finish under par. The scoring average of 67.543 was the lowest ever at Hualalai and sets up an interesting second day at this tournament that's limited to major championship winners over the last five years and other tournament winners in the last two.
"The course was ripe for low scores," Watson said. "It's like a quarter-horse race. You can't back off at all. My round started off a little shaky. I had a good par save at No. 2 and then got that eagle at No. 4 and it was off to the races.
"After the 30 on the front side today, I started thinking about that magic number and it starts with a five (59). I choked. But it's a good start to the season for me. I ended last year with a 64 and started this one with a 63."
Roberts and Pooley felt equally good about their rounds. Pooley's 63 matched his career low on the Champions Tour and Roberts, who is coming off a strong start to the season with a tie for 18th at the Sony Open in Hawaii, flirted with a 10-under 62 as well.
He opened his senior season with two birdies en route to a front-side 31. He came back with birdies at Nos. 13 through 15 and another at the 17th to draw even with Watson at the top of the leaderboard.
"Except for a couple of blips in the middle of my round (at Nos. 9 and 10), my day went well," Roberts said. "The golf course is in excellent condition. Certainly, I felt it was an advantage to have played at the Sony last week. I love playing there because it's in Hawaii. I think it's an advantage a little bit just to have an extra week under your belt. But the courses are totally different."
MICHAEL DARDEN / WEST HAWAII TODAY*
Defending champion Dana Quigley is tied for 15th at 5-under 67 after yesterday's first round.
Like most of the golfers in the field, Pooley spent last week practicing his game here. While Watson shot a 30 on the front side, he turned that trick on the back, including birdieing the first five holes (Nos. 10-14). It left him in some rarified air.
"The conditions were perfect for scoring," Pooley said. "It was there to be had if you hit the shots. I got off to a ho-hum start and then I got it going (with a birdie at the par-5 fourth). I thought someone could shoot 59 at the start of the day."
Most in the field tried to shoot the first 59 in Champions Tour history. Curtis Strange finished one stroke off the 63 pace and is alone in fourth with a 64. Three golfers were another shot back at 7-under 65. Zoeller, who won this event in a playoff over Dana Quigley in 2004, was the first to do so. Jim Thorpe and Ben Crenshaw joined him for a tie for fifth later in the afternoon.
There were another six golfers tied for eighth at 6-under 66, including Peter Jacobsen, who will skip next week's Turtle Bay Championship because of a sore right knee. Defending champion Quigley, who was paired with Watson, the man he beat in a three-hole playoff last year, was among four golfers tied for 15th at 5-under 67.
Joining him was Jay Haas, the Champions Tour rookie of the year in 2005, who missed the PGA Tour's Bob Hope Classic for the first time since 1984 to play in this event.
"The course is absolutely perfect," Haas said. "It's everything everybody said it was. I feel very comfortable out here after having some success on the Champions Tour late last year. It's good to be competing against golfers your own age."
Watson remained positive, despite last year's disappointing finish on the third playoff hole. He landed in the rocks at the par-3 17th, clearing the way for Quigley. But don't tell Watson the golf course owes him one.
"I don't think of it that way," Watson said. "You take what the course gives you."
And yesterday, it was in a very giving mood.
Monday, January 23, 2006
» The photos from the MasterCard Championship on Page B3 yesterday and on Pages B1 and B3 on Saturday were taken by photographers from West Hawaii Today, not the Associated Press. Michael Darden took photos for Saturday's edition, and Baron Sekiya's photo appeared in yesterday's edition.