NAPLES, Fla. – Russ Cochran and Bernhard Langer shot 8-under-par 64s to share the lead after the first round of the ACE Group Classic on Friday.
Cochran birdied four straight holes to close his front nine here, then birdied three of the first five on the back before parring in.
“To be honest with you, I made everything I looked at,” said the left-hander, who was the tour’s 2009 Rookie of the Year, then won twice last year. “It was a surprise for me, but a welcome surprise.”
On No. 16, he sent his birdie try 12 feet past the hole, then made par coming back. On No. 17, he drove into the bunker and two-putted from 60 feet. And at the last, he drove into the bunker, slipped on his bunker shot and left that 40 yards short of the green, but made a 15-footer to save par.
Cochran had opportunities to win going into the final round at both the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii and the Allianz Championship last week, but ended up tying for fourth in both.
Cochran said he “just kind of stunk the place up” in the final round in Hawaii, when he followed up a first-round 62 with a 72 on the final day while playing with one of his heroes, Tom Watson. He was in contention last week, too, but had to take an unplayable lie after hitting under a palmetto bush and bogeyed the final hole.
Langer, who earned the Player of the Year award and the money title last year, was also looking for a better showing after finishing tied for 16th and 17th, respectively, in the season-opening tournaments.
“I wasn’t happy the first two tournaments I played,” Langer said. “There were good moments in both of those tournaments, but there were also too much other stuff, too many dropped shots, too many missed opportunities.”
So, Langer – known for his work ethic – turned that up a notch preparing for this tournament.
“I worked really hard the last few days, extremely hard; maybe too much,” he said. “I kind of wore myself out, but it didn’t show today. I had enough energy to play the 18 holes, and I just felt I needed to improve on certain areas, and I showed improvement today.”
Mark O’Meara, back from playing in the Dubai Desert Classic last week, was third after a 65 that included holing out from a greenside bunker for an eagle on No. 14.
“I kind of hit it a little bit heavy and kind of chunked and ran it up there, so it was about as perfect as it could go in,” he said.
Mark Calcavecchia, Keith Fergus and Olin Browne were tied for fourth at 5 under.
Defending champion Fred Couples skipped this event, playing instead in the Northern Trust Open at Los Angeles.