Greg Norman hasn't played on the Champions Tour in nearly three years.
It has been 34 months since he teed off in the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in 2009. Despite the layoff, it was no surprise to his playing partners that Norman needed only a few holes to find his stroke Thursday in the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club. He is, after all, the winner of two British Open championships on the PGA Tour and 88 total professional tournaments.
"He had the look on the first couple holes of a guy who hasn't played in a lot of competition," said Tom Lehman, winner of the 1996 U.S. Open. "It's just a little bit of maybe uncertainty, but the minute he kind of hit his stride ... he played, I thought, extremely well."
Whereas Lehman birdied the first three holes en route to a 4-under 66 and a tie for third after the first round, Norman bogeyed the first hole, birdied the second and parred the third. Considering the Australian admits he needs to be on a course for a bit before he's comfortable, the slow start was to be expected.
"When you get out there you have to find the golf course underneath your feet," Norman said. "It's a matter of feeling your way around it. I did that today."
Including his birdie on the 483-yard, par-5 second hole, Norman had six birdies, compared to three bogeys, to finish 3 under, three strokes behind leader Bruce Vaughan. Only Jim Thorpe and Joe Daley with seven had more birdies than Norman's six. Thorpe and Norman were tied for seventh after the first round.
"I made some good puts, that's an important thing," Norman said. "But I also missed a couple makeable putts, too. So I think overall it's probably a good score that I shot today."
The best of the putts came on Nos. 9, 11 and 14, as Norman gained steam later in his round.
"Nine I birdied with about an 18-footer down the hill. That was a really good putt," he said. "Drove it in the right rough [on 11], up and out in front of the green and holed about a 45-footer there, so that was good."
Norman's opening bogey separated him from much of the field, as he was the only player in the top 20 to lose a stroke on the hole. The third member of his group, eight-time major champion Tom Watson, also bogeyed the first hole on his way to an even-par 70 and a tie for 21st place. Norman bogeyed No. 16 when he three-putted from 18 feet.
"You have to pay attention out there," Norman said. "You get on the wrong side of some of these pins, you get extremely quick putts, ones that I'm not used to having the last couple years, because you're putting on greens, where I play now, that aren't anywhere near the speed these are. So you have to be very careful of where you leave the golf ball."
But once Norman overcame the differences in greens, he began his ascent up the leader board.
"It looked to me like he got off a little shaky but then the last 14 holes he played beautifully," Lehman said. "To me, he's done some practicing because he played pretty well."
Douglas Farmer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @D_Farmer.