Morgan leads Senior PGA Championship
EDMOND, Okla. -- Gil Morgan is a member at Oak Tree Golf Club and lives within walking distance of the clubhouse. Until Thursday, he hadn't played a full round on his home course since October.
His lack of recent practice there didn't seem to matter much as Morgan shot a 5-under 66 to take a one-shot lead over playing partner Peter Jacobsen after the first round of the Senior PGA Championship.
Tied at 3-under 68 were 2001 Senior PGA champion Tom Watson, Jay Haas, who has won his last two Champions Tour events, and Loren Roberts, a three-time winner this year who has yet to finish out of the top 10 in eight previous Champions Tour events.
Defending champion Mike Reid had an opening-round 71.
The 59-year-old Morgan had six birdies on the 7,107-yard layout while recording his best competitive round there ever. It's the sixth time in his career he's led a Champions Tour major after one round.
Morgan played the occasional nine or 12 holes at Oak Tree in recent months but never put together a full round, not even earlier this week. On the practice holes he did play this week, he didn't fare as well as he would've liked.
"Just getting started this afternoon, I felt a little apprehensive," Morgan said. "But I hit a good drive on No. 10 and made a birdie on the first hole. That kind of eased things up a little bit, and from there, I was able to play pretty well today. I made a couple of mistakes and recovered from both of those."
A lot of Morgan's success came from understanding Oklahoma's constantly changing weather.
Wind, cited by many players before the first major of the year as a potentially decisive factor, wasn't much of one Thursday, staying mostly under 15 mph. But players did deal with significant heat: The daytime high of 96 in nearby Oklahoma City broke the previous record for a May 25 by three degrees, and in Guthrie -- even closer to the course -- it hit 100.
National Weather Service meteorologist Daryl Williams said the forecast calls for temperatures in the lower to mid 90s during the final three days of the tournament, as well as higher wind speeds than those on Thursday.
Because of that forecast, Morgan -- whose best previous Senior PGA finish was third in 1988 -- thought a low score Thursday would be crucial to any hopes of success in the tournament. He and Jacobsen didn't tee off until early afternoon and dealt with the worst of the heat, but they figure to catch a break Friday, as they'll tee off before 8 a.m. and thus avoid the higher afternoon temperatures.
Morgan opened by making a five-foot birdie putt on No. 10. He bogeyed 12 but rebounded with consecutive birdies on the par-4 15th and par-5 16th and another on 18. He added birdies on Nos. 3 and 7 on his back nine.
"To have the hometown crowd pulling for you is obviously a plus, no matter where you go," Morgan said. "It's kind of the home-court advantage or home-state advantage."
Jacobsen said Morgan and other Oak Tree-based golfers also have another advantage this week: Local course knowledge.
"When you don't play a golf course, like they do, as their home course, when you get a change of wind, you don't really know your line," Jacobsen said. "You don't know the line you want to take. But Gil gets up and it's inherent in his computer, he knows that if the wind is into his face off 11, he's going to aim here. If it's down off the left on 12, he's going to aim here.
"He got up and hit a few shots off the tees today that really surprised me ... so I just did what Gil did. I hit the club he hit," he said.
That philosophy worked, especially as they played their back nine. Jacobsen used consecutive birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 7 -- including a 25-foot putt on No. 7 -- to move into second place.
Watson and Haas, playing in a threesome with Scott Simpson, were among the first golfers to tee off Thursday and remained atop the leaderboard until Morgan and Jacobsen completed their rounds. But Haas and Watson reached 3-under in different ways.
Haas parred his first nine holes and had four back-nine birdies, while Watson was all over the place early. His opening tee shot at No. 1 went into the trees and led to a bogey, and he pulled a 6-iron off the tee into the water on the par-3 4th, resulting in a double-bogey. But he also had seven birdies, including three in a row on the front nine.
"It was Tom's excellent adventure out there on a couple of holes," Watson said. "It was a roller-coaster round, it was up-and-down, but I'm very happy about it. Seven birdies on this golf course -- I hope I can maintain that average for the next three rounds."
Roberts, starting on No. 10, was 4-under by the turn but had consecutive bogeys on 4 and 5.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press