Ozaki Needs Only 22 Putts to Take Lead

By Associated PressJuly 4, 2008, 4:00 pm
Champions TourENDICOTT, N.Y. -- Joe Ozaki was so pumped after the first round of the Dicks Sporting Goods Open, he didnt mind doing most of the talking in his halting English. Then again, there was no alternative.
 
Ozaki shot a 9-under 63 on Friday, his low in three years on the Champions Tour, to gain a two-shot lead over Argentinas Eduardo Romero.
 
Joey Sindelar, Ronnie Black, and Fulton Allem were tied for third at 66, while John Harris, Des Smyth, Bobby Wadkins, and Morris Hatalsky were another shot back.
 
Bernhard Langer, second on the Champions Tour in earnings and playing the En-Joie Golf Club course for the first time, shot a 73.
 
R.W. Eaks, who won the first edition of this event a year ago with a 17-under total of 199, had a 75 while playing on two bum knees.
 
The playing on a cloudy day with just a hint of wind was the easy part for Ozaki, who had never played the narrow, tree-lined course before Mondays pro-am. His manager in the United States had the holiday weekend off, so his Japanese manager, Mitoki Adachi, who speaks only a couple words of English, just had to smile and let Joe describe a round that matched his best as a pro.
 
Very, very well today, Ozaki said with a big smile. Perfect. Greens perfect. Easy to stop. Between the trees, no problem.
 
OK, finished! Thank you! Ozaki said as he began to leave.
 
Not so fast, Joe.
 
When PGA TOUR media official Dave Senko told him he needed only 22 putts, Ozaki halted, but only momentarily.
 
Twenty-two? Really? he said. Thank you!
 
Because heavy rain soaked the course overnight, players were allowed to lift and clean their balls in the fairways, and Ozaki took full advantage. He had no bogeys and closed with a 29 on the back nine, making birdie on six of his final seven holes.
 
After sinking a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 9 to reach 3 under, Ozaki made birdie putts of 12 and 6 feet at Nos. 12 and 13, then chipped in from 71 feet at the par-4 15th hole to start a string of four straight birdies.
 
Romero made his mark on the front nine. He started with three straight birdies and after two pars made three more birdies with a trio of putts that traveled a total of 13 feet. The only blemish on his day was a double bogey at the par-4 10th after he hit his second shot into one of the 10 water hazards on the course.
 
You make a mistake and youre dead. I lost concentration at No. 10, I never lost it after that, said Romero, whose best finish this year was a tie for fourth at the Allianz Championship in February. I think this is my week.
 
Sindelar and his large gallery seemed to share that sentiment. He has three top-5s in eight starts since turning 50 in March to become eligible to play the Champions Tour, and he knows the course better than anybody. Sindelar, who grew up in nearby Horseheads and still lives there, had four birdies on the front side and three more on the back, a bogey at the par-4 sixth hole his only slipup on the round.
 
Sindelar, who won the B.C. Open in 1985 and 1987 at En-Joie before the tournament was taken off the PGA TOUR prior to the 2007 season, hit 14 greens in regulation and made birdie putts of 12 feet at No. 7, 15 feet at No. 9, and a 19-footer on the final hole. He also chipped in from 25 feet after missing left with his tee shot at the par-3 17th hole and got up-and-down for par from 40 yards after driving the right trees at the par-4 13th hole.
 
I finally made some putts. I basically hit bottom at (the Senior PGA Championship in May) at Oak Hill, said Sindelar, who still managed a tie for third, his best finish of the year. I couldnt get a putt in the hole. I had five birdies for the week. This course has worked for me through the years.
 
It worked a year ago for Eaks, but limping often on his aching knees, he made three double bogeys on this day and hinted afterward his career might be over.
 
I need two knee replacements. Im going to play two more tournaments and then Im quitting'done, said Eaks, who was in a threesome with Sindelar and Andy Bean (69). Its not any fun at all. I wanted to come back and play here one more time before the curtain closes, so thats what I did, tried to make the best of it. I saw some good golf today, so that was worth it.
 
Im a 15 handicapper now. I cant practice anymore. I show up on Thursdays and play in the pro-am and try and play. But I can ride my Harley, though, and thats a good thing. At least Ive got that to look forward to.
 
Divots:
Because of the possibility of early morning fog on the weekend, the final two rounds will be played off two tees starting each day at 9:30 a.m. Tom Wargo withdrew because of a bad back. Although 40 players broke par, nobody carded an eagle.
 
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