Chapman on Top of Senior PGA Championship

England's Roger Chapman carded a 3-under 68 during a tough scoring day to take the opening-round lead in the $2 million Senior PGA Championship. The Champions Tour's first major of the year began Thursday at the Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Chapman posted four birdies and two bogeys on the front nine, then added another birdie and the rest pars on the home half. "I played very nicely," he said. "As you say, I drove the ball very well, didn't miss a fairway. Hit 16 greens, I think. So the iron play was good as well."

The 53-year-old Senior European Tour regular was surprised he performed so well considering that he hasn't played much competitive golf this season. "It was a solid round. Surprising, really because we have only played one event in Europe this year, so this is probably my fourth real competitive round this year. So it's a long way to come, a long wait. But I'm very pleased with the way things are going."

John Cook also had a nice start with a three-birdie 69 and solo second. The only blemish on his card was a bogey on the par-4 12th. "Very happy, yeah," said the 54-year-old. "Looking at this golf course the first three days of practice I thought a round of par would be great. And you would be very happy with that.

"With that other wind blowing on Monday and Tuesday it was pretty brutal," he added. "But yesterday it was a nice day and we got to feel a bit more comfortable on the course. It wasn't that windy, it was a little bit warmer, ball started to travel, you started to see things a little bit better.

"Then today the wind decided it was going to switch completely on us right from the first tee ball. We were trying to figure out what to do there. But I was patient all day and my caddie, Tommy Anderson and I, I normally work really quickly and I don't carry a book, I don't carry anything, I just listen to him and decide what I'm going to do."

Posting 70s were J.L. Lewis, Steve Pate, Jeff Sluman, David Frost, Jim Carter and Jay Haas, who confirmed that the Jack Nicklaus-designed Harbor Shores is playing difficult. "It's a pretty tough course today with all the wind, totally different wind than what we played in the practice round, so we were kind of guessing a little bit on some of the holes," Haas said.

"But I did a lot of good things. I was a little shaky coming in, but the holes are a little more difficult and the wind's starting to pick up. I made a nice about six- or seven-foot putt for bogey on the last hole, which bogeys don't taste too good usually, but I didn't want to make a six on 18. But I'm happy with 1-under and learning the course as I go, but I feel like if I keep driving it in the fairway I have a chance."

Among those posting an even-par 71 was the seemingly ageless Hale Irwin. The 66-year-old, 45-time Champions Tour winner had three birdies and the same number of bogeys on Thursday. "I'm happy to get in with even-par, let's put it that way," said the three-time U.S. Open winner. "Not that I couldn't have shot better, I could have. But at the same time it was a different golf course than I had seen."

Peter Jacobsen, the 2004 U.S. Senior Open champion, opened with a 72. The 58-year-old Portland native agreed with Cook and Haas. "It's a challenging golf course," Jacobsen noted. "You've got to drive the ball straight. You got to put it in play to be able to have a chance to get the ball on the proper level on the greens. If you miss a fairway like I did on a couple holes, you are really scrambling. But the greens are smooth, I think they're the proper speed, yeah, it's a real challenge."

One of the pre-tournament favorites, Fred Couples, got off to poor start with a 76, matching the score of, among others, Champions Tour stalwarts Tom Lehman and Tom Kite. The 52-year-old Seattle native had four bogeys, a double on the par-5 15th and just one birdie. Couples had a tough time figuring out the winds that sweep across the course off nearby Lake Michigan.

"I think any golf course plays harder when the wind blows and this golf course plays a shot or two harder," Couples told reporters. "But that has really not much to do with it. I was 3 over par after four and played okay for a while and double bogeyed a par 5, I don't remember what, 13 or 14, and I finished with a [sic] 77.

"But I don't think the wind made it unplayable out there. I mean, if it was Sunday and it kept getting dryer and dryer it would be a little different. But there's some good scores. Anything under par is a good score. And there was nothing else."

Couples, known for his insouciant attitude, had already put his opening round behind him and immediately began looking forward to Friday. "I'm past worrying about it," he said of his round. "It's just another round of golf. I'm 52 years old, if I'm worried what I shot every single round, then that's a problem. If I could go hit balls and felt good, I would go hit balls. But it's just, it's just hard to go bang balls after I play. So I'll come out tomorrow and try to see what happens."

The lowest scores by the club pros competing were 1-over 72s by George Forster, the head pro at Radnor Valley Country Club in Blue Bell, Pa., and Craig Stevens, the teaching pro at Steel Canyon Golf Club in Sandy Springs, Ga.

In other opening-round news, 2007 Senior PGA champion Denis Watson of Zimbabwe was disqualified for failing to sign his scorecard, which showed an 84 that included, incredibly, four birdies but a lot of other discolored numbers.

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