Weather, players ruling the course at Fox Chapel Golf Club



Hitting fairways? Not a problem at the Fox Chapel Golf Club, where soft and squishy conditions kept the ball from rolling into the nasty, thick-as-sourdough rough.

Hitting greens? Not a problem, either. Not when the Champions Tour allowed the players to lift, clean and place the ball in the soggy fairways, never mind that it's a major championship.

Starting with Joe Durant, who went out in the third group of the day, and ending with Bernhard Langer, who was in the next-to-last threesome, players started taking aim at the flagsticks and picking off birdies in rapid fashion.

Round one: Constellation Senior Players Championship

Post-Gazette golf writer Gerry Dulac recaps the first round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club. (Video by Matt Freed; 6/26/2014)

When the assault was over, Durant, David Frost and tournament upstart Doug Garwood were tied at the top of the leader board at 6-under 64 at the 32nd Constellation Senior Players Championship. The trio of leaders combined for 17 birdies and only one bogey.

Eight other players were only a shot behind.

"We had the ball in hand, which was a good thing," Durant said. "The greens were very soft and receptive, so you're going to see a lot of good scores."

On a day when nearly half the field (39 players) posted subpar scores and bogeys were more rare than a half-cooked steak, Durant began the onslaught with seven birdies and only one bogey, which happened when the four-time PGA Tour winner missed his only fairway and plugged his tee shot in the right fairway bunker at No. 12.

He was followed by Frost, a former 10-time winner on the PGA Tour, who also missed only one fairway. Garwood missed five fairways, but hit all 18 greens, none more spectacular than when he lifted a 9-iron from the right rough over some trees and made a 35-footer for birdie at the par-4 14th.

That came in a five-hole stretch in which Garwood made four birdies en route to a back-nine 31 and his seventh consecutive subpar round on the Champions Tour.

The course was playing so easy that the top 11 players on the leader board made a combined nine bogeys -- or only three more than Tiger Woods made in his return to the PGA Tour Thursday.

"It's unfortunate that we've had so much rain here because it's a golf course you need to play defensive, play defensive approach shots away from the pin and roll the ball down," said Frost, who has won five times on the Champions Tour. "[But] it's like more of a fire-at-the-pin here and almost predict how far the ball's going to roll backward now."

Langer, Larry Mize and Corey Pavin -- all former major champions on the PGA Tour -- are in a group of eight players at 65, one shot back. Langer and Mize managed to do the improbable on day one.

Langer birdied the 231-yard 17th, one of only seven birdies on the hole with the Biarritz green. Mize was one of only four players to birdie the 475-yard, par-4 eighth, which played as the toughest hole in the opening round (4.285).

Then there was Steve Pate, who holed his 8-iron approach at the par-4 fourth hole for eagle, en route to a 65.

"The greens are really soft," Pate said. "You've got to worry about spinning your ball back too much. It's unfortunate because the course is in such great shape. It just needs to stop raining."

Greensburg native and six-time PGA Tour winner Rocco Mediate is one of seven players who shot 67 and is three shots behind the leaders. Mediate missed only one fairway -- at the 421-yard 16th -- and it led to his only bogey when he three-putted from 40 feet.

Still, he was not displeased with his round after hitting all 18 greens in regulation.

"I'm trying to go back to my old way of doing things with Jimmy [Ballard] and Rick Smith," Mediate said, referring to two of his former swing coaches. "The old feel I had, I had today. I was very pleased."

Garwood has been something of a surprise since fighting his way on to the Champions Tour. He was a two-time All-American at Fresno State who played four years (2002-05) on the Web.com Tour, but he never played in a PGA Tour event.

After turning 50 in March, he got into his first Champions Tour event last year when he Monday qualified at the Principal Charity Classic and finished tied for seventh. Three months later, he finished second at the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, winning $144,000.

Garwood, though, went back to Qualifying School in the fall and was on track to gain one of the fully exempt spots for 2014 until he three-putted the final hole for bogey, dropping him into a five-man playoff for the final two spots.

On the second playoff hole, he hit his tee shot out of bounds and made double bogey, dropping him to eighth and gaining him just conditional status for 2014.

But here he is, tied for the first-round lead after finishing fourth in last week's Encompass Championship and losing in a playoff three weeks earlier in the Principal Charity Classic.

"I have been playing good and so I tried to lower my expectations coming in here," Garwood said. "I figured I would just kind of take it slow and easy and start off slow, but then I made some birdies and all of a sudden I'm 6-under par."

Garwood was asked why he would lower his expectations if he was playing so well?

"I've always believed that the lower the expectation, the easier it is to meet it," he said. "I don't want to put any pressure on myself. There's enough pressure just being out here with all the hoopla."

Durant is the opposite. After winning four times and still competing on the PGA Tour, he said he's "just enjoying playing" in his first season on the Champions Tour.

"I think I'm putting a little more pressure on myself in the regular tour events than I am out here," said Durant, who opened with a 64 for the second week in a row. "Out there I'm still trying to keep my job and it's kind of been reflected in some of my play out there.

"I've had some really good rounds and I've had some not-so-good rounds."

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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