Jeff Sluman birdied No. 17 en route to a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead over Fred Couples on Thursday after the first round in the Regions Tradition, the second of five Champions Tour majors.
Sluman, who had eight birdies, and Couples both had their only bogeys on No. 16 at Shoal Creek. The Legends of Golf winner with Brad Faxon in April, Sluman matched his best opening round score on the Champions Tour.
”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,” he said. ”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, the Presidents Cup captain and World Golf Hall of Famer, made a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 sixth hole and a 30-footer for birdie on the next hole. His only blemish was a bogey on the par-3 16th when he overshot the green and landed just into the line of spectators.
The 1992 Masters winner has had a whirlwind few weeks, visiting the White House recently as Presidents Cup captain, playing two rounds with Tiger Woods last week at the PGA Tour’s Memorial and getting inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May.
Couples said his golf has been ”fair” but called the rest of the year ”truly fun.” He has endured a memorably bad experience at Shoal Creek.
Couples had four consecutive bogeys to blow a one-stroke lead after 12 holes in the 1990 PGA Championship and lost by three strokes to Wayne Grady.
Couples still likes the course and finished fourth at the Tradition last year.
”I didn’t play well at all a couple years ago and then last year I had a good last round to move my way up there,” he said. ”But I never really had a shot at beating Tom (Lehman). I think I shot a 7 under the last round so I was not even really a factor but at least it felt like I could shoot another good round here. I played really well (Thursday).”
Duffy Waldorf and Peter Senior shot 67, and Mark Calcavecchia, Michael Allen, David Frost and Corey Pavin followed at 68. Two-time defending champion Lehman was one of 11 players with a 69.