Mason trying to find that winning magic again

Updated: August 9, 2002, 9:30 PM ET
Associated Press

BLAINE, Minn. -- James Mason wants to be more than a one-hit wonder on the Senior PGA Tour.

Paired with better-known players Arnold Palmer and Miller Barber, Mason shot a course-record 64 for the opening-round lead in the 3M Championship on Friday.

Mason birdied seven of the last 12 holes and holds a two-stroke lead over Hale Irwin, who had a bogey-free round of 6-under 66.

A field of 78 is chasing a $262,000 winner's share in the 54-hole tournament at the TPC of the Twin Cities course.

''I keep pinching myself when I see all the stars I've seen play on TV and now I'm right there with them,'' Mason said.

Mason came on the PGA Senior Tour in 2001 as an unknown club pro from Georgia. His profile rose 10 weeks ago when he was a surprise winner at the NFL Golf Classic in Clifton, N.J.

Mason survived a Tuesday qualifier for that event, grabbing one of four spots from 100 hopefuls. He went on to become the eighth player to play his way in on Tuesday and win a senior tournament.

That also marked Mason's lone top-35 finish in 16 senior events. He hasn't cracked the top 25 in nine tournaments since the NFL victory, although he said the New Jersey experience will help his confidence in Blaine.

''After being through it before, I won't be as nervous as I was in the second round of the NFL event,'' Mason said. ''I started with a 65 then shot 73 on the second day, then recovered to win by two strokes on the last day. The biggest thing for me is that I've really been working on my putting, and it paid off today.''

Mason made five birdie putts of 12 feet or longer, capped by a 20-footer on the 17th hole. His lone bogey of the day came on the second hole.

While Irwin leads the season money list at $1.8 million, Mason stands 49th with just more than $250,000. That includes $195,000 for his NFL victory.

Irwin survived a rocky start by making par-saving putts of eight to 12 feet on three of his first four holes. He birdied the 12th, 13th and 18th holes to play each nine in 3-under. It was his 11th consecutive sub-par round this season.

''With six birdies and no bogeys, I'm very pleased,'' Irwin said. ''I made some nice putts out there. I had a birdie and three par saves on the first four holes. I easily could have been 2- or 3-over par there if I don't make those putts.''

Irwin is looking to post a top-three finish in this tournament for the sixth consecutive year. He's a combined 69-under par in 19 rounds in this event. He had a streak of 13 consecutive sub-par rounds here and in 2001 when he shot a 74 on the final round in a third-place finish.

Irwin is trying to become the first player to win a third senior event this season. A top-two finish here would let Irwin surpass $2 million in season earnings for the sixth year in a row.

Irwin has lost playoffs in two of the last three tournaments. Last week, Hubert Green claimed his first victory of the season as he outlasted Irwin in a seven-hole playoff at the Lightpath Long Island Classic.

''Last week was last week,'' Irwin said. ''I don't have any ideas of trying to make up for last week. There was some disappointment, but that's gone now. All I can do is try to take the positive things I did. There's plenty of bad stuff in this game if you dwell on it.''

Green is alone in third at 67. Five players share fourth at 68 -- Senior rookie Fuzzy Zoeller, Allen Doyle, Sammy Rachels, Leonard Thompson and Rocky Thompson.

Green led by as many as two shots after he birdied seven of his first 11 holes. But he fell from the lead after bogeys on No. 13, 15 and 16.

Defending champion Bruce Lietzke survived a roller-coaster round and is tied for ninth at 69. He birdied four consecutive holes before finding the water and taking a triple-bogey eight on the 571-yard sixth hole. Lietzke is trying to become the first 2001 Senior champion to repeat. In his 2001 victory here he opened with a 72, but came back with rounds of 66 and 69 for a two-stroke victory.

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press