Defending champion Tom Kite is three shots behind the leaders after the opening round of the MasterCard Championship.

Big Isle's
Veriato fires 66

He's tied at the top
with Irwin and Quigley
at the MasterCard

By Randy Cadiente

KA'UPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii >> Home is where the heart is.

And for Steve Veriato, home is here on the Big Island.

"Home, it's a pleasant place to be," said Veriato after he fired a 33-33--66 at the Hualalai Golf Club yesterday to share the opening round lead of the MasterCard Championship with Hale Irwin and Dana Quigley.

"It's a great spot to be.

"But if you all look back I've had a lot of good finishes at home," added Veriato, who grew up in Hilo, which is more than an hour's drive from Kona. "Maybe it's just the comfort."

Veriato can't get too cozy sitting in the top spot.

Not with the likes of Irwin and Quigley around.

Irwin, the leading money winner on the Champions Tour last year, won the 1997 MasterCard, while Quigley has won seven times since joining the senior circuit in 1997.

"I played OK," said Irwin, who was the only player to shoot a bogey-free round yesterday.

"There's very good playing out there," he added. "My biggest concern right now is how far am I going to hit the ball because of the new equipment I'm using. Mentally, (I'm not ready) but you better be because if you're not, you get bypassed pretty quickly."

Irwin and Quigley aren't the only ones Veriato has to watch out for.

A stroke back at 67 are 2001 MasterCard winner Larry Nelson and Jay Siegel. Jack Nicklaus, who had five brides on the backside for a sizzling 32, led a logjam at 68. Joining the World Golf Hall of Fame member are Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller, Bruce Lietzke, Jose Marie Canizares, Ed Dougherty, Stewart Ginn and Bruce Fleisher.

Defending champion Tom Kite opened with a 3-under 69. Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer isn't tight with the leaders, but he shot his age with a 1-over 73. Irwin, who played with the struggling Palmer at last week's Senior Skins on Maui, said it was nice to see Palmer playing a more respectable round of golf.

Irwin has had a tremendous amount of success in the island chain through the years. But his home-court advantage might not be as strong as Veriato's. Even with the star-studded field right on his shoulder, Veriato said he doesn't plan to do anything different during today's second round.

"I'm very comfortable with what I'm doing," said Veriato, who three-putted No. 3 for a bogey but followed that with an eagle on the fourth and birdies on Nos. 7 and 9 to make the turn at 33. "My drive's been good. My irons are good. My putting could be a little better but it's good. We're just going with the yardages and avoid some of the bunkers and when I can shoot at the pins, I'm going for the pins."

Nelson, who was first off the tee with Bob Gilder, set the pace early when he offset one bogey with six birdies to finish as the leader in the clubhouse with a 5-under 67. Siegel was close on his tail when he posted a 34-33--67 a half-hour later.

Not to be outdone, Irwin opened with a birdie on the 397-yard, par-4 No. 1 and then proceeded to get five more birdies -- Nos. 3, 4, 7, 10 and 14 -- for his 66. Quigley followed with an eagle and five birdies but suffered a bogey on the 15th for his 66.

"I played great," said Quigley, who qualified by winning the SBC Senior Open last year.

"I always played well here," he added. "I love the golf course. It's my favorite place to play. I'm really psyched up when I get here and for me, it's hard not to play well."

If that's the case, watch out Veriato.

Isao Aoki teed off on No. 1 in the MasterCard Championship on the Big Island.

MasterCard Champions Tour

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