Big names Watson, Montgomerie in the hunt after 1st round of Senior PGA

Big names Tom Watson, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Jay Haas, Roger Chapman and Kenny Perry are all very much in the hunt after one round of the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor.

They are all however chasing Joe Durant who shot a 6-under 65 to take the opening round lead. Dan Forsman is a stroke behind with Brad Faxon sitting two strokes back at 4-under.

Conditions were picture perfect for Thursday's opening rounds. Temperatures were in the high 50s with limited wind and the sun out for most of the morning and afternoon, allowing for solid scores from the top senior golfers in the world.

Making just his third start on the Champions Tour, Joe Durant birdied his final hole (No. 9) for a 6-under-par 65 and a one-stroke lead over Dan Forsman after the opening round of the 75th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.

Durant turned 50 on April 7, and made the most of his inaugural appearance in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf with birdies on three of his last five holes at Harbor Shores. Durant, whose best finish in a major championship on the PGA Tour was a tie for 18th at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, finished with seven birdies for the day.

Durant’s is the best numerical opening-round score in a Senior PGA Championship since Bob Charles shot 64 in 1988 at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Forsman, who missed the cut in the 2012 Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores, shot 33 on each nine. He birdied four of six holes on his second nine.

So much for what happened two years ago at Harbor Shores. Brad Faxon, who quickly and quietly departed Benton Harbor after missing the cut in 2012, rolled in lengthy birdie putts early and throughout his opening round at Harbor Shores today to shoot 4-under-par 67. He trails leader Joe Durant by two strokes.

Faxon made seven birdies, including four over a five-hole span.

“It was a great day,” Faxon said. “You can look silly on these greens here, but I made a couple big putts early. From 35 feet on the second hole, up a big slope and back down. Then the third hole was just as long, but with more slope. So you kind of just laugh a little bit because when they go in, it's a bonus. That kind of got me off to a good start, but I felt good the whole round.”

Faxon’s previous scores in Senior PGA Championship competition were unimpressive but they were at least consistent – he missed the cut in both 2012 and 2013, with 36-hole totals of 151.

“This is way bigger than any other tournament we play,” Faxon said. This time, it looks like he’ll be around to experience it over all four rounds.

Jay Haas shot 69 today in the opening round. That’s the same score he fired in the final round at Harbor Shores two years ago, when he tied for 29th.

Haas has posted under-par scores in four of his five rounds at Harbor Shores. He’s won the Senior PGA Championship twice (2006 and 2008) and has six top-10 finishes in the Championship.

Kenny Perry, seeking to win his fourth consecutive major championship on the Champions Tour, had four birdies and three bogeys for a 70 today. Two years ago, Perry closed his play at Harbor Shores with 62, the lowest 18-hole score in Senior PGA Championship history.

Kohki Idoki of Japan said he felt pressure being the defending Senior PGA Champion, and perhaps the nerves got the better of him as he began defense of his title. Idoki double-bogeyed the sixth hole, made only one birdie and shot 5-over-par 76.

Two years ago, Roger Chapman began his inspiring, wire-to-wire victory at Harbor Shoes with a 3-under-par 68. Today, he appeared to be on his way to a similar start until he bogeyed two holes on his inward nine and finished at even-par 71.

Starting his round on the back nine, Chapman had bookend birdies on Nos. 10 and 18. However, bogeys at the par-3 fourth hole and the par-4 seventh hole left him tied for 31st. Ironically, Chapman had 31 putts for the round.

A trio of World Golf Hall of Fame members lived up to their billing this afternoon. Colin Montgomerie, playing in his first Senior PGA Championship, led the way with four birdies and a 2-under par 69. Two-time Senior PGA Champion Tom Watson shot 70, as did Bernhard Langer, who made three straight birdies in one stretch.

Lee Rinker, PGA director of golf at Emerald Dunes Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, is part of a successful golfing family – his brother, Larry, is a PGA Life Member and a former Tour professional; and his sister, Laurie, is a veteran member of the LPGA Tour.

Today, Lee made a name for himself, making three birdies on his front nine and a lone bogey on the back for a 2-under-par 69 that has him tied for sixth place, four strokes out of the lead. He is tied with Todd McCorkle and Frank Esposito as the Low PGA Club Professionals after the opening round.

The low 18-hole opening round by a PGA Club Professional is 68, shot by Mike San Filippo in 2003 and Tom Joyce in 1991.

Gene Fieger, who won the Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship last month, shot 76 today.

With his 69, Jay Haas leads the 10 Senior PGA Champions in the field after the first round. He is joined in “red” figures by two-time Senior PGA Champion Tom Watson and 2010 Senior PGA Champion Tom Lehman, both of whom shot 70.

The other Senior PGA Champions, and their opening-round scores:
Roger Chapman 71
Hale Irwin 75
Mike Reid 75
Kohki Idoki 76
Michael Allen 78
John Jacobs 78
Tom Wargo 81

Every player in the field made at least one bogey in the opening round.

Rocco Mediate withdrew during the opening round today, with a rib injury. He was 3-over par through six holes.

Steve Elkington had an ingrown toe nail removed on Monday and it was extremely painful. He had to withdraw today, as did Loren Roberts, who cited personal reasons.

Today got off to a great start with the celebrity chef appearances at the KitchenAid Fairway Club, as Gail Simmons of “Top Chef” on Bravo performed her cooking demonstration. Up next for tomorrow (Friday) is “Iron Chef” Cat Cora from the Food Network. She’ll be making her Classic Greek Roasted Chicken with Herbs at 1 p.m.

Just outside the KitchenAid Fairway Club, the silent auction began for the KitchenAid Stand Mixers on Parade. Nine Stand Mixers, decorated by local artists in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan, have been signed by a variety of professional golfers, celebrity chefs and TV personalities, including four-time Senior PGA Champion Hale Irwin, 2012 Senior PGA Champion Roger Chapman, 2013 Senior PGA Champion Kohki Idoki and NBC Sports’ Mark Rolfing.

All proceeds will benefit Cook for the Cure®, which raises funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

The KitchenAid Fairway Club is located to the left of the main entrance at Harbor Shores.

High pressure building over the Great Lakes region will provide us with dry but cool temperatures through Saturday. Clear skies and diminishing winds will allow the mercury to dip to the lower 40s by sunrise Friday. A slightly higher northwesterly breeze is expected tomorrow, keeping temperatures at or below 60.

Another chilly night is expected Friday night, but warmer temperatures will return over the weekend. Only a few clouds will pass over from time to time, but no rain is expected until at least Monday

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