Simpson leads Blue Agave Classic by one stroke

Updated: March 31, 2006, 7:42 PM ET
Associated Press

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico -- Scott Simpson shot a 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead over Champions Tour veterans Gil Morgan and David Eger after Friday's windy opening round at the Blue Agave Golf Classic.

Simpson putted well to post a bogey-free round with five birdies. Starting on the back nine, he dropped a 9-iron to two feet from the pin on the par-4 13th and tapped in for birdie.

The 50-year-old, who finished second at the Turtle Bay Championship in Hawaii in January, just avoided a bunker on the second hole to save par and used his 3-wood to overcome a stiff wind for a birdie two holes later.

"I wasn't in any big trouble," Simpson said. "I putted it by a couple of times but made the good comebacker."

Morgan, who has 23 Champions Tour victories, notched six birdies and a pair of bogeys to finish at 4-under. He was even with Eger, who had five birdies and a bogey.

Six players were tied at 3-under, including 10-time Champions Tour winner Allen Doyle.

The tournament marks the Champions Tour's sixth stop south of the border but first since the 2004 MasterCard Classic, which Ed Fiori won. Eger took the 2003 installment of the MasterCard Classic near Mexico City.

"To me it's not a course that you can particularly play aggressively," he said of the 7,073-yard, par-72 Vista Vallarta Golf Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus. "You've got to really strive to keep the ball in play."

A seven-time PGA Tour winner, Simpson debuted on the Champions a year ago but has yet to win. His best putt of the day came on the par-4 7th, when he converted from 20 feet.

"If you're getting ready to have a hot putting week that really helps," he said.

Winds coming off the nearby Pacific were blowing at 5 mph early but began to take their toll after midday, kicking up to over 30 mph.

"When that wind comes up, it gets your attention," said Mark Johnson, who was among those tied for third. "Club selection becomes very, very important."

Tour officials reversed an earlier ruling and allowed players to use carts beginning at the $1.6 million, 54-hole event here. They can ride during 20 of the 29 Champions Tour events this year.

The course affords striking views of the surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay, one of the largest in the world. Simpson said reading breaks was especially tough given the topography.

"I think everyone knows that everything breaks toward the ocean," he said. "It's a definite tendency for everything to break down toward the marina, is what I was told. I'm not sure exactly where the marina is, but I'm sure it's down there somewhere."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press