John Huston, the human birdie machine, has never met a pin position he didn't like. And when greens are as soft and inviting as they were in the first round of the 30th Constellation Senior Players Championship, he starts taking aim at the flag the way a dog eyes up a soup bone.
A seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, Huston has never been afraid to go low -- golfing vernacular for making as many birdies as you can. And there he was Thursday, going lower than any of the 81 players at soggy Fox Chapel Golf Club.
"It's something I think naturally, you're either born that way or not," Huston said. "I feel like whenever you have the momentum, I think you got to take advantage of it because it can turn around and go the other way just as fast."
Huston, playing in just his second event since March, rode the momentum of an eight-hole stretch in which he made five birdies and an eagle to shoot 5-under 65 and take a one-shot lead on four players, including Fred Couples and Fred Funk.
Not bad for a player who returned to the Champions Tour last week after a three-month layoff because of a back injury.
"The more birdies you can get on Thursday and Friday, the bigger cushion you have on the last couple days," Huston said. "I certainly don't like to protect any round. I try to keep it moving forward."
Huston's binge began at No. 18, his ninth hole, when he chipped to 4 feet for birdie at the 574-yard hole. After birdies at Nos. 2, 5 and 6, he culminated the flurry with an eagle at the 299-yard seventh hole when he drove the green and sank a 25-foot putt.
Couples, the 2011 champion who finished fourth in last year's tournament, birdied two of the final five holes to shoot 32 on the back and finish tied with Funk, Duffy Waldorf and Russ Cochran.
Cochran, who won the Champions Tour's Principal Charity Classic earlier this month, shot 31 on his final nine holes that included an eagle at No. 2, a 483-yard par-5.
Five players are tied at 67, including Michael Allen and Tom Pernice Jr.
"It played long and I think it played easier than when it's hard and fast," said Couples, who shot 68. "Last year it was hard and you could bounce them in there. Today, you could fly them in there."
On a day when it appeared no golf would be played because of inclement weather, all 81 players managed to complete the first round, albeit in soggy conditions that thickened the already dense rough and made controlling the spin on the greens a dicey proposition.
Still, 43 players shot par or better in the first round and the scoring average was 70.44 -- nearly a stroke lower than last year's first round (71.318). It helped that they were allowed to lift, clean and place their ball in the fairway.
"You hit it where you hit it and it lands there," Funk said. "It's just a matter of who's making a couple more putts here or there or maybe hitting it a little better. You've got to play pretty poorly to shoot a really bad round.
Funk, who faltered on the back nine on Sunday last year to finish tied for ninth, had to wait to make his move. When he did, he made four birdies in six holes, the last coming at the par-4 12th when he made a 25-footer. But the big boost came when he hit a hybrid approach to No. 8, a 475-yard par-4, and made a 12-footer for birdie.
"Eight is a big bonus," Funk said. "I'm just trying to make par on that hole."
Fast starts are nothing new for Waldorf, who has yet to win since joining the Champions Tour last August.
In three of his past four starts, he has held or shared the first-round lead, including last week at the Encompass Championship in suburban Chicago. In the other, he was the second-round leader at the Principal Charity Classic and ended up finishing third.
"I've been getting off to good starts and that's been the difference," said Waldorf, who has ditched the crazy hats and shirts he wore in his days on the PGA Tour. "It's just a lot easier to play from under par for me than playing from 2-over par."
Greensburg native Rocco Mediate, making his first appearance in his hometown area as a member of the Champions Tour, parred his first 10 holes before ending the streak with a two-putt birdie from 12 feet at No. 2, the 483-yard par-5. He shot 70 and was in a group of 14 players, five shots back.
"Amazing that we got it in," Mediate said. "The golf course was amazing, for how wet it was. It played fantastic. The fairways played really wide and the greens played even bigger."
In his Champions Tour debut, England's Colin Montgomerie made three birdies on the back nine to offset a double-bogey at No. 8, his 17th hole, to shoot 69. He is tied with eight other players, four shots off the lead.
"I putted like a complete buffoon," Montgomerie said. "The expectations are quite high and I want to try to do as well as possible. And I'm going away to practice my putting, if you don't mind, because the rest of it's OK."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published June 28, 2013 4:00 AM