Stadler, Hoch & Spittle share first round lead
Craig Stadler's golf game isn't where he'd like it to be. For one day, though, it was good enough to put him atop a leaderboard.
Stadler shot a 3-under 69 on Friday to tie Scott Hoch and qualifier Rod Spittle for the first-round lead at the inaugural Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
After a one-year hiatus, professional golf returned to En-Joie Golf Club on a perfect summer day, with temperatures around 80 under partly cloudy skies. But gusting 25-mph winds in the afternoon helped prevent low scores on the narrow 6,974-yard course.
Only 20 players broke par, but 17 of them were within two shots of the lead. And Bruce Vaughan, Massy Kuramoto, Ed Dougherty, Bruce Fleisher, Tim Simpson, Tim Conley and Jack Ferenz were tied for fourth just one shot back.
This Champions Tour stop replaced the PGA Tour's B.C. Open, which had been staged annually at En-Joie from 1971-2005. It was eliminated after last year, a victim to the major modifications to the tour schedule that began in 2007.
Stadler didn't come close to duplicating what he accomplished here four years ago when he shot a stunning 9-under 63 on the final round to win the B.C. Open by one shot at age 50. He started slowly, bogeying the par-3 fourth hole when he hit 3-wood left and couldn't get up and down.
Stadler recovered and reeled off four straight birdies, closing the string by hitting a 6-iron to 20 feet and making a birdie putt on No. 7 and chipping to 4 feet at No. 8. He nearly made it five straight, but his birdie putt attempt at the par-4 ninth hole stopped at the lip, eliciting groans from the gallery as Stadler stared skyward.
Stadler faltered with consecutive bogeys after the turn, then rallied with birdies at Nos. 12 and 18. And he was happy when the day was over.
"A lot of everything -- a lot of good shots, a lot of horrible shots, a lot of good putts, a lot of horrible putts. Very much a combination," said Stadler, who has broken 70 only four times in his last 21 rounds. "Kind of a little roller-coaster. But I got in under par, which I haven't done in about three years anywhere. It's nice for a change not to be teeing off at No. 10. If we were going off one tee tomorrow, I'd still be going off 10 the way I've been playing."
Hoch played En-Joie six times in the 1980s, the last in 1986 when he missed the cut. All 18 greens were redone for the 1998 B.C. Open, and the small trees that many players remembered have grown to great heights, making the fairways seem even narrower.
On this day, Hoch, a native of North Carolina who thrives when it's warm, started by sinking a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-4 first hole, then missed an 8-foot par putt at No. 2 to give the stroke right back. Still, Hoch rallied with four birdies in a seven-hole span before hitting a poor tee shot at No. 15 and missing a downhill putt from inside 3 feet for bogey.
"The wind was blowing pretty good, and the thing that made it tough was that it seemed to be crossing, and this is a very tight course anyway," said Hoch, who played in a threesome with Fuzzy Zoeller (79) and Jim Thorpe (72). "It made it extremely difficult. It was a difficult day. The two guys I played with didn't make a birdie. It wasn't that easy."
Stadler blamed his problems on the fairways, which still are recovering from the flood waters that inundated the course a year ago and forced the PGA to move the final B.C. Open about 90 miles northeast to Turning Stone Casino's Atunyote Golf Club.
"The fairways have struggled," Stadler said. "They haven't come back the way they were."
Spittle, who shot 68 on Monday to qualify, didn't seem to mind, and he was by far the biggest surprise of the day. Three years after giving up a lifelong job of selling health insurance, he sits in heady company.
"I'd just like to tiptoe around a couple more days," said Spittle, who with Thorpe were the lone players to record bogey-free rounds. "I hope I just stay solid the next two or three months. My job Mondays is to see if I can get work on weekends."