Lehman’s late charge puts him in prime position
AP Sports Writer
PARKER, Colo. (AP) – Tom Lehman is two shots back, playing on a balky right knee – and he couldn’t be in a better position.
Lehman’s 4-under-par 68 in the first round of the 71st PGA Senior Championship on Thursday came in the afternoon, when the winds whipped up to 35 mph and wreaked havoc on the rest of the field.
First-round co-leaders Robin Freeman and Bernhard Langer, who went off in the morning, will have to tee up in the afternoon Friday in the sort of winds that Lehman mastered.
Lehman gets the calmer conditions and softer greens in the morning, with a chance to make a move, providing his knee cooperates.
“It’s been bothering me all year,” Lehman said as he rushed off to grab a bag of ice after bogeying the 18th hole. “It’s a hard course to walk.”
And even harder to solve, given the shifting winds that dried up the greens and turned club selection into a guessing game.
“Wind makes it very difficult,” Langer said after carding a 66. “Especially when it’s gusty and it’s not consistent out there. We look at the forecast and it says south winds, but sometimes they were southeast and then it went to southwest. So, you’re standing at a few shots and just guessing and hoping you’re hitting the right club.”
Lehman was guessing correctly. He fired a 32 on the back nine.
“I’m swinging pretty well, and driving it well,” he said. “That’s a big part of the game here.”
Freeman’s Oklahoma roots would seem to make him the perfect golfer to handle the gusts whipping through the high plains this week.
“It would be, but I haven’t been to Oklahoma in 30 years,” Freeman quipped.
Brad Bryant, of Amarillo, Texas, was also two shots behind the leaders, and Fred Couples and Tom Kite were among four golfers three shots off the pace.
Many shots were an adventure on the 7,406-yard, par-72 private 3-year-old course that cuts through open meadows, wooded hillsides and streams on picturesque land where the Rockies meet the plains, an area that gets its share of violent weather.
“I think I’m a pretty decent wind player,” said Langer, who won 42 times on the European Tour and twice donned the green jacket at the Masters. “The really good wind players say they always curve it into the wind. I don’t always do that. But that’s a better way to stop the ball on the greens. So, if you have right-to-left wind, you slice it into the wind and the ball comes down softer than letting it hook.”
That’s easier said that done, as the higher afternoon scores showed.
Neither Freeman nor Langer was overly excited about grabbing a share of the 18-hole lead because they’ll be teeing off in the afternoon Friday, when the winds are again expected to keep scores in the black.
Ben Crenshaw, who fired a 72 on the course he co-designed, said he was worried about the weather.
“I hope it doesn’t get any more than this,” he said. “I know it’s forecast as not good tomorrow and I’m worried about that. If you get any more wind and the greens get keen and the ball starts blowing around, then you’re worried about disruption of play. … They put a good amount of water on the greens and they dried out pretty good today.”
Willis Young, the onsite meteorologist for the PGA, said Friday’s forecast calls for similar but warmer weather with winds progressively strengthening throughout the afternoon, topping out at 35 mph.
Fred Funk, who was even-par after the first round, was actually looking forward to teeing off in the afternoon Friday because he figures the winds will die down by the time he’s finishing up.
“We’ll actually have a lot when we tee off and then late in the round it will be perfect,” he said.