North takes first-round lead at TPC

Updated: July 28, 2003, 2:14 PM ET
Associated Press

MAINEVILLE, Ohio -- Andy North, who had shot only six competitive rounds in the 60s this year, found a winning stroke Friday.

North fired an 8-under 64 to take a two-shot lead over Bob Gilder and Mike Smith in the first round of the Kroger Senior Classic.

"The last month, I started hitting some better shots," North said. "I really felt I'd made some progress and was on the right track."

The 64 tied the course record set by Steve Flesch in this year's U.S. Open sectional qualifying over the 7,145-yard Tournament Players Club at River's Bend, north of Cincinnati.

Bob Gilder, fresh off a Senior Tour win last week, parlayed a hole-in-one into a tie for second with Mike Smith. Gil Morgan, Ed Dougherty and Hubert Green were another stroke back at 67.

Thirty-seven players in the no-cut field of 78 broke par on the new Arnold Palmer-designed course, where the tournament was moved this year after 12 years at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Grizzly Course at The Golf Center at Kings Island.

"None of us had any idea what was going to be good or bad today," North said. "I just hit some really solid shots and gave myself a lot of chances."

North had six birdies and one eagle, his first of the year, when he sank a 25-footer on the eighth hole.

"I'm really encouraged," North said. "Today was a nice shot in the arm."

Gilder, whose win last week at the Allianz Championship moved him into second place on the Senior money list behind Hale Irwin, continued his good play.

"Starting at 6 under is a wonderful thing," the low-key Gilder said. "You always know you're not going to be too far back."

Irwin, at even-par 72, saw his string of subpar rounds end at 16.

Gilder knew he hit a pretty good 8-iron from the 12th tee, but couldn't see that the ball went into the hole -- and the crowd around the green didn't whoop it up.

"The ball covered the hole the whole way. It flew in on the fly," Gilder said. "I knew it hit something. But they didn't yell or anything like that. They just put their arms up. I thought I'd put it 3 feet from the hole, the way they were holding their arms."

Gilder finished with four birdies and the eagle-ace. Smith had seven birdies and a bogey.

"I started off really good. I hit some good shots early, but didn't make any putts," Smith said. "I kept waiting for something to happen. They started falling for me at No. 5."

From there, Smith had five straight birdies to make the turn at 31.

Gilder and Smith had finished when Dougherty and North began their charges. While North finished strong, Dougherty hit into a hazard, costing him a penalty stroke, and had to settle for a double-bogey seven on No. 18 to kill his chance for the lead.

Although scoring conditions were ideal -- very light wind, soft greens and temperature in the upper 80s -- that could change quickly.

"Today was a perfect day," North said. "If we get a day when the winds blow 20-25 mph, it's going to be very difficult."

The course has more undulations, and is shorter than a typical Palmer course, Gilder said.

"It's a real position golf course," Gilder said. "You really have to think your way around the course."

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press