Senior PGA Championship
Senior PGA Championship
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Three share first day honours

Seconds after signing the scorecard that gave him the a share of the first-round lead at the PGA Seniors Championship on Thursday, former club pro Ted Goin was whisked away to be interviewed by ESPN.

It was the first time he had appeared on the national cable network.

It was also the first time he had been at the top of a senior major, the first time he had reporters grilling him about his round and the first time he found his name on the scoreboard above the likes of Watson and Nicklaus.

Goin birdied the final three holes in a 2-under-par 68 and shared the lead with Tom Kite and journeyman Mike Smith after the opening round of the year's second major championship for the over-50 set.

``I'm the eternal optimist,'' said Goin, who spent 15 years as a club pro at The Plantation in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. ``I have kind of been waiting to break through. I don't know if it will happen here or not. There are a lot of good players here, with a lot of experience -- more than me. All you can do is go out and play the best you can.''

In his second year on the Senior PGA Tour, the 52-year-old Goin was 2-over through seven holes but recovered down the stretch to get into contention.

``I've been hunting and pecking out on the range for feel as far as hitting, and my rhythm kind of came around. I've been struggling with my putting, too,'' said Goin, who has made the cut in all 10 of his senior tournaments this year. ``I kind of got it going. It's a confidence thing and mine has been lagging lately. So shooting a good round doesn't have anything to do with tomorrow, but it gives you confidence.''

Kite, who has won twice on the senior tour this season, had three birdies and one bogey.

Smith, a non-winner in 25 years on the PGA Tour, made a 12-footer for birdie on his last hole to pull into the tie for the lead.

Heavy rains overnight and early in the morning softened the greens and fairways at the 6,927-yard Firestone Country Club course. It also put a premium on avoiding the heavy, gnarly rough.

The three leaders were effective off the tee. Goin missed just three fairways, Kite hit all but two and Smith credited his driver for putting him on the leaderboard.

``Driving the ball in the fairway is going to be paramount,'' said Kite, a winner of 19 regular tour victories, including the 1992 U.S. Open. ``We've had three inches of rain and I can't see this grass now growing over the next couple of days. As difficult as the rough was today, it's going to be even more so by Sunday.''

Smith has played in 379 previous tour events as a pro without finishing first.

``I think I'm a pretty good player, but can I win? Who knows? I never have,'' said Smith, playing his second year as a senior.

Tom Watson, the defending champion, shot a 69 as did Fuzzy Zoeller, who is seeking his first win in his first year on the senior tour. They were joined by Jim Thorpe -- winner of the first senior major, The Countrywide Tradition -- and Wayne Levi.

Watson said it takes older players longer to get loosened up. That's why he hit every fairway on the back nine.

``You go to the practice range and you hit a few balls and you go to the putting green and you get stiff,'' Watson said. ``You get out on the course and you end up maybe not as flexible as you need to be and it takes a while to get that way.''

Larry Nelson, who won two PGA Championships and a U.S. Open during the 1980s, was 2-under through 15 holes but found trouble on the 635-yard ``Monster'' 16th. After driving into the right rough, he hit a recovery shot into the fairway. His third shot rolled through the green before he chipped to 8 feet and missed the par putt. He then bogeyed the closing hole to finish at even-par.

Also at 70 were Bobby Wadkins, Walter Hall, Jim Ahern, Doug Tewell, Bruce Fleisher, Larry Ziegler, Jay Overton, Roy Vucinich and the low club pros in the opening round, Brian Lowe and Jerry Tucker.

Jack Nicklaus blasted out of a greenside bunker for one birdie and rolled in a 40-foot putt on 17 another. He three-putted from about the same distance on the last hole for a 71.

As Nicklaus walked toward the clubhouse after completing his round, he winked, smiled and said, ``The old man might scare 'em. You never know.''

 

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