STATELINE — A familiar face is atop the leaderboard after the first day of the 27th annual American Century Championship.
Jack Wagner, the only non-athlete to win the event, collected 27 points Friday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course to take a three-shot lead over the field.
Mike Modano is second with 24 points followed by defending champion Mark Mulder 23, co-favorite Mardy Fish is at 22, Sterling Sharpe is at 21, and Jeremy Roenick is sixth at 20.
The 27-point round was Wagner’s third highest since the ACC went to the Modified Stableford scoring system back in 2003.
The actor/singer, who has won the tournament twice and is the only wire-to-wire winner in tournament history (2011), credited his string of par-saving putts on his front nine (back nine of the course).
“I started off on the back nine today, so I went through a run of holes, 13, 14 and 15, that I think made my round,“ he said. “I made a 10-footer for par on 13. I made a 20-footer for par on 14, and I made a 67-footer for par on 15.
“So I think sometimes par putts; as we watch pros play, when they make a few par putts, it gives them a little momentum. And that gave me some confidence today.
“I kind of played 5-under from there on out until a sloppy bogey on the last hole.”
Wagner is playing with a heavy heart. He had the words “4-Jim” taped to his hat during his round.
“This weekend is dedicated to Jim Powers,” Wagner said. “He was my best friend for 46 years, personal assistant for 34 years, and he passed June 4th. And he’s been up here all 26 (previous) years, worked with Phil (Weidinger, PR person for the tournament) a lot, NBC guys, and American Century people.
“And I tried to put this (taped message) on my back because he always had my back, but it doesn’t stay on. So it’s going to be on the hat this week. But, yeah, I have inspiration this week. So this week’s a tribute and dedication to Jim.”
Modano collected four birdies, 12 pars and two bogeys en route to his best opening round in his nine-year ACC career.
“It was kind of really, like everybody says you kind of ham-and-egged it,” Modano said. “I hit some good shots. I hit some bad ones. I was able to make some putts and got a couple wedges close to make some birdies, and it was just a lot of everything.
“My caddie made some great reads on some putts and we were able to get up-and-down at least seven or eight times. So we dodged some bullets, but we made some good putts when we needed to.”
Modano has six straight top-20 finishes in the past six years, including one top-10. He may be on the verge of getting over the hump.
“I think it’s the confidence thing, it’s being able to control yourself and the atmosphere and the elements out there, but trusting your swing, obviously,” Modano said. “It’s a lot of short game and a lot of putting. I’ve worked on my putting almost a year now. I’m comfortable with that. Trusting yourself is a big thing. But it’s a different arena for us.”
Wagner for one wasn’t surprised to see Modano up there.
“I think Mike’s ready,” Wagner said. “He’s such a great player, he’s such a beautiful golfer. He and Mardy Fish both have golf swings you’d see on the PGA Tour. I love playing with those guys, because you just kind of pick up on their tempo.
“But I think Mike can go very low. It’s really more about how you’re going to handle being around the lead or being in the lead, when it comes to chipping and putting. I just think that’s always what it comes down to on any level of golf, how you’re going to handle your nerve when you have to get up-and-down or make a putt.”
Mulder birdied two of his final three holes (16 and 18) to climb into the top five. He had four birdies on the day with an uncharacteristic three bogeys.
Fish had four birdies, 10 pars and four bogeys.
“I hit the ball OK,” Fish said. “I just didn’t score well. The greens are tricky. There is a lot of run out after you expect the ball to stop. I hit the first 10 greens in regulation, and I think I was just even par or somewhere around there.”
Sharpe had one eagle and one birdie, and he admitted that he left a lot of shots on the course. He chipped in for eagle on the par-5 4th and then birdied the par-5 17th.