Sluman Up by One over Couples at Regions Tradition

Jeff Sluman fired a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead in the Regions Tradition. The second of five Champions Tour majors began Thursday at Shoal Creek in Alabama.

The 55-year-old Sluman is a five-time winner on the over-50 circuit, and his last title came in late April in the Legends of Golf with partner Brad Faxon. Sluman carded seven birdies through 14 holes, before a bogey on the par-3 16th.

But he rebounded nicely with a birdie on the par-5 17th before closing with a par to take a one-stroke lead over Fred Couples.

For the most part, the field took advantage of the course, which was softened considerably by two inches of rain on Wednesday. "The greens are very fast out there, but they're as good as we've seen all year certainly, or the last five years that I can remember," Sluman told reporters. "They were just perfect speed and I was getting the ball to the hole.

"On days like today, it feels like it's easy and then sometimes you come out the next day and it feels like an alien took over your body. I hope that doesn't happen to me (Friday)."

Couples, who carded five birdies, an eagle on the par-5 sixth and a bogey, was pleased with his start. "I played really well (Thursday)," the 53-year-old from Seattle said.

He also found the going relatively easy at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. "The fairways were the best they've ever been here for the three years, and the greens took a little bit of water (Wednesday) night that you never saw," he said. "If you were in the rough, you could get the ball on the green. Obviously it made the course play a little easier."

Two strokes out of the lead are Duffy Waldorf and Aussie Peter Senior, while another shot back are Michael Allen, Mark Calcavecchia, Corey Pavin and South African David Frost.

Defending champion Tom Lehman opened with a 69 along with nine others. Lehman made the unusual move of switching to a cross-handed putting grip in mid-round. "Frustration and I didn't feel like I had a chance to make it," Lehman said of his switch on the eighth hole, after which he carded three birdies and a bogey.

"You know how it is when you just feel like you just can't make the putt. I had no confidence so I just changed my grip up and felt more comfortable."

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