James Mason looked down the fairway after a drive during the first round of the MasterCard Championship yesterday.

No longer unknown

James Mason comes out
of nowhere to take the lead
after the first day

KA'UPULEHU-KONA, HAWAII >> Hawaii, meet James Mason.

Mason, a club pro from Georgia, was the name everybody was talking about after the first round of the 2004 MasterCard Championship was suspended because of darkness here at the Hualalai Golf Club yesterday.

"The first time I saw James Mason I didn't know who he was," golf analyst Mark Rolfing commented on the Golf Channel.

"I thought he was a course volunteer."

Rolfing, as well as everyone watching the telecast, knows Mason's name now.

A Monday qualifier who joined the Champions Tour in 2002, Mason fired a sizzling 7-under-par 65 to grab the early lead in the winners-only $1.6 million Seniors tournament -- one that had a field of 39 of the best players on the 50-and-over tour, including Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Larry Nelson, Craig Stadler, Allen Doyle, Bruce Fleisher and Hall of Fame legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Hot on Mason's heels, a stroke behind at 66 before play was called at 5:55 p.m., were Stewart Ginn, Jay Sigel, Dave Eichelberger and Jim Thorpe.

Checking in at 67 were Dave Barr, Tom Jenkins and Tom Purtzer.

Defending champion Dana Quigley was at 2 under through 13.

Other notables finishing before darkness fell included Nelson (71), Hubert Green (71) and Gary Player (77).

Twelve players were still on the course when the horn sounded to suspend play, and they will go off at 8 this morning to finish their first round. Second-round play will begin at 11:09 a.m. today. Tickets for Friday will be honored today.

"Who is James Mason?" Mason said to himself in the interview room.

"I came from the Monday qualifying ranks two years ago, I'm a club pro by trade, I'm a teaching pro from Georgia and I was fortunate to win the NFL Classic.

"But I played a practice round with Allen Doyle and Dana Quigley and that helped my confidence," added Mason, who was wearing old-style knickers yesterday. "It makes you feel more comfortable (out there). And the more I can play with these type of people, the upper echelon of the Senior event, the more comfortable I'll get."

Mason must have been in a comfort zone all his own.

He birdied the 397-yard, par-4 opening hole when he drained a 25-footer for a 3. Mason followed that with birdies on Nos. 4 and 7 and then went to 4 under on No. 10 when he chipped to within 5 feet of the pin on the 566-yard par 5. A tap-in birdie on the 519-yard, par-5 No. 14 got Mason to 5-under, and the Duluth, Ga., native closed out his round with back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th.

"I think the key (on Saturday) is to just keep the same frame of mind I had today, which was just trusting myself," Mason said.

"I think that's the hardest thing on any level."

Mason would have been farther out front, but he missed birdie opportunities on Nos. 8, 11, 15 and 16.

Ginn, meanwhile, likes his chances this week.

Who can blame him? He was in the hunt for the coveted title last year before a final-round 69 put him in a tie for fourth with Watson at 203, five strokes behind winner Quigley. And this was in a field of 36 of the best on the Champions Tour.

"I always look at it as if you're in the tournament, you have a chance," said Ginn, whose 66 yesterday was his fourth round in the 60s here at the 7,097-yard, par-72 resort layout.

Ginn came out of the blocks fast and furious.

A 7-iron to 5 feet on the second hole for a birdie started off the 2002 Ford Senior Players Championship on a bogey-free round. On the 392-yard, par-4 sixth, Ginn nailed an 8-iron from the fairway to 8 feet of the pin and sunk that for his second birdie. Two more birdies -- on Nos. 7 and 9 -- and Ginn made the turn at 4-under 32.

"I was patient with my game," Ginn said.

"I just tried to keep it in play ... keep it in the fairway," he added. "If you can keep it in the fairway all the time, you can score."

The back nine turned out to be a different story.

Despite birdies on No. 10, a par-5 that measures 566 yards, and the 167-yard, par-3 No. 12, Ginn had to save par on Nos. 13 and 15, both par-4s.

"The wind switched," Ginn said.

"I haven't played this wind before," he added. "The wind was always in the other direction. The course played differently."

Ginn, who has been in the winner's circle 17 times since he turned professional in 1971, credits his coach, Shane Wilding, with helping him turn his game for the better.

"I did a lot this offseason with my coach back in Malaysia," Ginn said. "We took it (my game) to bits and put it back together again. But we talked about it before we teed off today and he said, 'OK, are we going straight for the flag or are we going to just draw it in?' He said, 'Just go straight for it.'

"No bogeys, which I thought was the key to the round."

MasterCard Championship

Champions Tour
Partial First-round Leaders
James Mason 65 -7
Stewart Ginn 66 -6
Dave Eichelberger 66 -6
Jay Sigel 66 -6
Jim Thorpe 66 -6
Three tied at 5 under


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