Strange sits eight strokes off lead

Updated: February 18, 2005, 8:55 PM ET
Associated Press

NAPLES, Fla. -- Curtis Strange got off to a slow start in his Champions Tour debut, shooting a 2-over 74 on Friday to fall eight strokes behind first-round leaders R.W. Eaks and Mike McCullough in the ACE Group Classic.

Strange had four birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey. The two-time U.S. Open champion hit his second shot into the water on the final hole but got up and down for a bogey. He birdied No. 13 and chipped in for a birdie on No. 14.

"There were some anxious moments because you want to play for so many, including yourself," Strange said. "But you also know that there are so many unknowns out there. All of those things combined make you uneasy at times."

A television analyst for most of the past eight seasons, Strange won 17 PGA Tour titles, highlighted by his 1988 and 1989 U.S. Open victories. He also captained the 2002 U.S. Ryder Cup team.

"You can hit balls all you want or practice all you want, but where you really find out what you need to work on is when you go play a competitive round," he said.

The 51-year-old Eaks, a three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour, birdied the last three holes on the TwinEagles course.

"I kind of grip it and rip it," Eaks said.

Hale Irwin, coming off a victory in Hawaii, opened with a 67. Ron Streck, Wayne Levi, Jim Thorpe, Jerry Pate and Leonard Thompson had 68s.

The 59-year-old Irwin, a two-time winner in the tournament, is fighting a cold.

"It doesn't matter because I'm there," Irwin said. "I'm OK. I've got that solid round under my belt. It wasn't one of those stressful, straining kind of rounds."

Defending champion Craig Stadler shot a 73.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press