Bogey-free Vaughan ties first-round mark at Constellation Senior Players Championship
Bruce Vaughan lines up a putt on the 17th green Thursday at the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Club. Vaughan had six birdies in the round.
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On a leader board littered with some of the tour's biggest stars, it was left to a former municipal-course player from Kansas to outshine them all. At least for one day.
But if Bruce Vaughan wants to stay atop the field at the Constellation Senior Players Championship, he might have to reproduce some of the six birdies he posted Thursday at the Fox Chapel Golf Club when he tied the tournament record for low first-round score.
Or conjure some of the magic he produced when he won the 2008 Senior British Open at Royal Troon -- his only victory in five years on the Champions Tour.
"It was just nice to execute," Vaughan said. "It's nice to just hit a shot and have it come off just how you want it to."
Vaughan, 55, had a lot of those in his bogey-free round of 6-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead on Fred Funk, including an awkward but nonetheless dazzling bunker shot on the final hole that allowed him to finish with an 8-foot birdie.
But he will need to keep his foot on the gas with the plethora of major champions chasing him on the leader board.
Right behind Funk, who birdied four of the final six holes to shoot 65, are defending champion Fred Couples, who did not make a bogey after a mostly sleepless night caused by a stiff back; Tom Lehman, who birdied five of the first seven holes en route to a front-nine 30; and Michael Allen, the only two-time winner on the Champions Tour who had one of the two eagles at No. 18.
They are tied at 66 with Joe Daley, whose best finish in two years on the Champions Tour is a tie for fourth in last month's Senior PGA.
And right behind them is Greg Norman, who overcame a nervous bogey at the opening hole to make six birdies in his first Champions Tour appearance in more than three years. Norman is tied with Jim Thorpe and Bill Glasson at 67.
"I just enjoyed playing, I guess," said Norman, who played with Lehman and Tom Watson (70) and drew the biggest gallery of the day. "When you get out there, you have to find the golf course underneath your feet and feel your way around it. I did that today and made some good putts."
Couples was having a hard time merely feeling his feet when he teed off at 7:50 a.m. His back stiffened overnight and he didn't sleep very well, causing him to walk slowly, at times gingerly, around the course. But there was nothing somnambulant about his game, not after posting a bogey-free round that included four birdies.
The player once known as "Boom Boom" because of his thundering drives helped his round by reaching both par 5s in two for a pair of two-putt birdies. He used a 7-iron to reach the 483-yard second and a 3-wood from 245 yards at the 574-yard 18th.
"I got through it," Couples said. "It's hard for me to finish up at 5 or 6 o'clock [Wednesday] and then tee off in the morning early. I feel lucky that I got through this round with that score. I don't know exactly what's going on and I'm not getting too much sleep. So I'm just not feeling very well."
Vaughn's 64 matched the best first-round score in tournament history, though the other players to accomplish the feat -- Hale Irwin (2002), Gil Morgan ('03) and Graham Marsh ('05) -- did so on a par-72 layout.
He is going to need more of that at Fox Chapel, where birdie chances are likely to rise with the searing temperatures. Nonetheless, only a quarter of the field (20) were under par in the first round.
"I think so because there are a lot of wedges into greens and the greens right now are very receptive," said Funk, an eight-time winner on the Champions Tour. "It's supposed to be hot so I got a feeling they're going to keep water on them a little bit for the members for when we leave town.
"I thought in the beginning of the week 10, 11, 12 under would be the [winning] number. It's going to be a little lower than that I think. If me or Bruce or some of the 4s go way under it's going to be 16, 17, 18 under."
Lehman got off to a rocket start, making birdies on the first three holes and four of the first five. When his 3-wood tee shot landed on the front fringe at the 295-yard seventh, Lehman two-putted from 50 feet for his fifth birdie en route to a front-nine 30.
"It was a pleasure to watch him," Norman said of Lehman. "He played extremely well."
Lehman hit only eight fairways but was the only player in the field to hit all 18 greens in the first round. His only bogeys came when he missed the fairway at Nos. 11 and 12 and three-putted each time. He finished off his round with a pitch to 8 feet for birdie at No. 18.
"When I kept the ball below the hole I was 6 under," Lehman said. "When I played the ball above the hole I was 2 over. When you get above the hole it's really treacherous."
Lehman wasn't the only player to get off to a quick start.
Daley birdied the first three holes, four of the first five and five of the first seven before a double bogey at the 475-yard, par-4 eighth momentarily disrupted his round.
Mark Calcavecchia, last week's winner in Montreal, also birdied the first three holes before three bogeys in the final five holes left him at 1 under, five shots back.
At the end of the day, the opening trio of holes ranked among the six easiest in the first round, with No. 2, a 483-yard par 5, ranking as the easiest. The three holes yielded a total of 65 birdies and two eagles in the opening round.
"You can get off to a pretty good start," said Funk, who closed his round with back-to-back birdies, including a 50-footer at the par-3 17th. "Numbers 4 and 5 are birdie holes and you got No. 7, too. At the beginning you have to get it under [par]."
First Published June 29, 2012 12:00 am