CONOVER, N.C. – Peter Senior eagled the final hole for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead over Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and Tom Kite at the Ensure Classic on Friday.
The 51-year-old Australian eagled the 18th hole in windy conditions at the Rock Barn Golf and Spa to take his first lead on the Champions Tour.
“I played pretty good today,” Senior said. “It was a good ball-striking round, which I haven’t done the last four or five weeks.”
Despite the wind, which gusted up to 25 mph and frequently changed direction on the tree-lined, 7,090-yard course, Senior had an error-free round, making five birdies in addition to his eagle.
“I didn’t hole anything outrageous,” he said. “All my birdies on the front side were 3 feet or less, and my longest (putt) was within 6 feet.”
Senior has had three top-10 finishes in his first year on the tour, including a tie for second at the Regions Charity Classic on May 15, and was 16th in Charles Schwab Cup points entering the tournament. He became eligible for the 50-and-over circuit at last year’s qualifying tournament.
Senior said he has been struggling since tying for sixth in the U.S. Senior Open on Aug. 1, with his best finish over the last six events a tie for 11th at last week’s SAS Championship.
So the Aussie brought swing coach Gary Edwin to this weekend’s tournament.
“It’s amazing what a little tweaking here and there can do,” Senior said. “But I kind of surprised myself out there today. The most important thing in this game, especially when you’re trying to change something, is to go out and do something early in the round.”
Senior opened with a birdie on the par-4 first hole, then added birdies on Nos. 4, 7, 9 and 15 before his eagle on No. 18.
“You start to feel a little confident in what you’re doing, and it just went from there,” Senior said. “It was just a real positive thing for me to play as well as I did today.”
Langer is seeking his sixth victory of the season, and also holds a 672-point lead over Couples in the Schwab Cup standings. There are four events left after this weekend.
Langer and Kite also had error-free rounds, with each making six birdies and sharing the lead with Couples before Senior’s eagle at 18.
“All in all, it was a pretty good round considering how the wind was gusting around out there,” said Kite, whose last Champions Tour win came in 2008 at the Boeing Classic. “Anytime you have wind and trees, you’re going to have lots of different wind directions swirling around. It was definitely bouncing around a little bit out there, and it made club selection difficult.”
The players also had the option to lift, clean and place, a result of five straight days of rain that soaked the course. Along with the softened greens, that led more than half of the 78-player field to shoot below par.
“That’s why the scores were still pretty good,” Langer said. “We had the ball in our hands, and the greens are so soft that you could really fly it in there. Even if you missed the green, it was still easier to get up and down.”
Couples, however, had his troubles at times. He mixed in a pair of bogeys – on the ninth and 13th holes – with five birdies and an eagle on the par-5 seventh.
“The wind wasn’t easy or difficult, but it was a nuisance at times,” said Couples, a three-time winner this season who missed Thursday’s pro-am because of back problems. “My back’s not bad, but it’s achy. … I didn’t have any real bad spasms or anything, though.”
Fulton Allem, Dan Forsman, Nick Price, Hal Sutton and Gary Hallberg were another stroke off the lead. Two-time and defending tournament champion Jay Haas was three strokes behind. Haas, Don Pooley, Tommy Armour III and Bob Tway all shot 68 Friday.
Russ Cochran, who has won the last two Champions Tour events, struggled in his opening round, making just one birdie with two bogeys and a triple-bogey on the par-3 15th hole to finish at 4-over 76.