Romo leads Tahoe; Barkley struggles
STATELINE, Nev. -- Although golf's top players were in Scotland, there was some celebrity power at Lake Tahoe on Friday as Tony Romo shot a 3-under-par 69 to take the first-round lead and Charles Barkley avoided last place -- barely -- at the 20th annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback and the NBA Hall of Famer- turned-television analyst are among 89 past and present sports stars, actors and politicians competing through Sunday for the $600,000 purse at Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course.
Romo, who once came within one qualifying spot to play in a U.S. Open Championship, had seven birdies including three of the first four holes.
"Anytime you can get off to a good start it makes it easier," he said. "It's all about consistency in this game. It's no different than any other sport."
Romo tallied 27 points in the modified Stableford format that awards six points for eagle, three for birdie, one for par, zero for bogey and minus-two for double bogey or worse.
Rick Rhoden, the former pitcher who has won the tourney a record seven times and nearly qualified for the U.S. Senior Open Championship earlier this month, was two points off the lead with 25 points. Next were NHL Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr with 24 and ex-quarterback Trent Dilfer with 23.
"I'm right in the mix and feeling like I didn't play worth a dang," said Rhoden, who had two 3-putts along with a 4-putt after reaching the 570-yard, par-5 No. 3 in two. "We all knew Tony Romo is a good player. I told my friends he's going to win some of these tournaments."
Romo declined to comment about his reported break-up with actress Jessica Simpson, who watched him play to a third-place finish last year. On one hole along the lake, four bikini-clad women on a boat held up a sign Friday that read, "Romo, we're single 2."
"I'm not going to talk about my personal life, but I appreciate you asking," he told reporters.
Marshall Faulk, who played in a running back super group with Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen, had a hole-in-one on the 169-yard, par-3 17th that borders the lake. That was worth eight of his 11 points total.
Barkley, the longshot in the field who was paired with actor Ray Romano, finished the day in second-to-last place with minus-30 points -- six better than ultimate fighter Chuck Liddell, who made his tourney debut.
"I played horrible," Barkley said. "I just choked like a dog."
It was a disappointing effort after he had spent several months earlier this year trying to revamp his swing during a Golf Channel series with Tiger Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney.
"Ray, are you doing the 'Haney Project' next year?" Barkley asked Romano. "Hank's a yeller and a screamer."
"So's my wife," Romano shot back before plugging his latest animated movie with the gallery on the first tee. "Why aren't you people at 'Ice Age?'"
The mayor of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., thanked Barkley for contributing $190,000 the past two years to a fund for victims of a wildfire that burned more than 250 homes at Lake Tahoe in 2007. He also presented him with a blown-up copy of a $5 betting ticket with Barkley's 750-1 odds -- which actually dropped to 499-1 by the time play began.
"I've heard you may want to get into politics," Jerry Birdwell said about the most popular golfer on the course. "I hope you don't decide to run for mayor of South Lake Tahoe because I'd be out of a job."
Barkley's stop-and-go swing showed some improvement, hitting his first drive more than 225 yards down the right side of the fairway. But he let a few expletives go and slammed his bag with his club when he chipped into a greenside bunker on the par-3 5th and couldn't get out in three shots.
Nevertheless, he and Romano entertained the biggest gallery on the course.
"All that weightlifting ain't paying off for me, Ray," Barkley said before his 60-foot putt for par came up an inch short on the par-3 7th.
"It's an easy game," he deadpanned after the tap-in bogey, one of three on the day with all the rest double bogey or worse.
Romano's par on the same hole cost him $20 when he told a boy on the tee he'd give him that much if his tee shot landed on the green, and it did.
"You're probably going to follow me around now," he told the boy after producing the money.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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