BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Tom Lehman enjoyed a rather ho-hum day on the course.
He finished the first round of the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek on Thursday with five birdies, no bogeys and a one-stroke lead over Nick Price, Mark Calcavecchia, Wayne Levi and Chien-Soon Lu and.
“I made a couple of nice saves,” Lehman said. “Otherwise, it was a pretty low-stress round.”
With two wins, a second and a third already in six events, Lehman can say that even though his lead was precarious long after his day’s work was over.
The Champions Tour’s first major of the year – and first professional event at Shoal Creek since the 1990 PGA Championship – started in sunny, mild weather and with fairly low scores.
Lehman tapped-in for birdie on No. 17 to take the lead into the clubhouse. It’s the first time Lehman has had sole possession of the lead after the first round of a Champions Tour event.
Price had a birdie on No. 16 to move into a tie for first, but followed that with a bogey. Levi and Calcavecchia both closed with two straight birdies.
Jay Haas was two shots off the lead while seven players were three back.
“I was surprised that the scoring was as low as it is,” Price said. “But I think playing the pro-ams, the wind was gusting a little bit. They had some tough pins out there (Thursday), but I think the saving grace was the greens were pretty soft. The ball wasn’t releasing on the greens. It’s allowing us when you get good yardage, to pretty much take dead aim here.”
And Lehman hit few errant shots.
The 1996 British Open and Tour Championship winner played the 7,058-yard course trying to keep risk-reward in mind throughout.
“For the most part I drove the ball onto the fairway all day long,” he said. “I hit a few shots that weren’t all that great. But most of my tee shots were in the fairway. I do think it’s the kind of course where when you get the right club and the right pin, you can attack it. If you get a shot you don’t feel good about it, you just don’t mess with it.”
Case in point: Lehman said the key shot of his day wasn’t the 200-yarder to 4 feet for birdie on No. 4. It was the 15-footer to save par on No. 13 after a bunker shot.
“Typically those are the big putts, the ones that keep the momentum going and keep your round going,” he said. “That was the putt for me.”
The key for Calcavecchia might have been not getting rattled by a horrendous start. He had a double bogey on the opening hole after his ball landed in a divot a foot into the right rough.
“I hit this thing and it took off like a shot out of a cannon, airmailed the green,” said Calcavecchia, a 13-time PGA Tour winner seeking his first victory on the Champions Tour. “I chipped it across the green to the bunker, missed a 5-footer and made six.
“After that, I pretty much told myself, ‘There’s 71 holes left. Every player in this tournament’s going to make a double at some point.’ So I forgot about it, moved on.”
He worked his way back to par after the first nine holes and added a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 10.
Calcavecchia finished much better than he started, with what he deemed his best drive of the round to within 147 yards on No. 18. He sent his approach to within about 10 inches of the hole. He birdied the last three holes.
Calcavecchia celebrated his sixth wedding anniversary with six birdies – and maybe a romantic dinner afterward.
Price nearly regained a share of the lead he lost after bogeying No. 17. His 25-footer for birdie fell a few inches short of the final hole.
The former British Open and PGA Championship winner had switched back to the putter he used in winning the Toshiba Classic in March.
“I just seem to have a better feel with it and I seem to be able to aim better with it,” Price said.
It couldn’t save him on the penultimate hole, which he said “was a bit of a nightmare for me.”
“I did hit a pretty good tee shot and laid up with a 7-iron and had not a very good line on the ball,” Price said. “The ball was sitting on a downslope in kind of a skinny part of the fairway. The ball kind of squirreled out on me with a sand wedge. I went into the right hand bunker, then I hit a poor bunker shot out and two-putted.”
Lu, from Taiwan, tied for second at last year’s Tradition, played in Oregon.
Levi, who has finished better than 45th only once in six Champions Tour events, had an adventurous finish with two bogeys and three birdies in his final five holes.
He is seeking his first Champions Tour win since the 2004 Constellation Energy Classic, his second victory.
Defending champion Fred Funk, who won the Tradition in Sunriver, Ore., two of the previous three years, shot a 75 and is tied for 42nd.
Russ Cochran withdrew because of an injured hand and was replaced by Bobby Clampett.