Rookie pro Ernie Gonzalez, who has survived the cut only twice in 10 tournaments, sank four long birdie putts on the back nine Thursday to share the opening-round lead with George Burns in the $500,000 Westchester golf tournament at Harrison, N.Y.
Although the left-hander splattered his driver to forbidding spots on the Westchester Country Club course, hitting only six fairways, Gonzalez continually rescued himself with his putter to shoot a five-under-par 66.
Woody Blackburn, despite a string of three consecutive bogeys to start his back nine, sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole and barely missed an eagle on No. 18, posting a third-place 67.
There was a five-way tie at 68 among veterans Calvin Peete and Don Pooley and young pros Wayne Grady, Mark Wiebe and John DeForest.
Wiebe lost his player's card last year and had to go back to qualifying school, while Grady, an Australian, earned his card last year and won the German Open.
At 69 were Mark Lye, Raymond Floyd, Lance Ten Broeck, Mick Soli and Andy Magee.
Gonzalez, a 24-year-old Californian, tied for 62nd in the only two tournaments he finished, the San Diego Open and Doral. His earnings for the year so far amount to $1,704, placing him 195th on the money list.
"I didn't hit the ball as solid as I like, but I putted really well," Gonzalez said. "I've been struggling all year and getting into a lot of trouble.
"I called my fiancee (in San Diego) this morning, and she said, 'Go out and play a good one for me.' I guess I played a good one."
After reaching the turn one under par, Gonzalez sank birdie putts of 12, 18, 20 and 15 feet on the 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th holes.
Despite the lack of a practice round, Burns enjoyed a jubilant return home as he birdied five of his first nine holes, three on putts of 15 feet or more.
Burns, who grew up on Long Island before moving to Florida 10 years ago, started on the 10th hole and birdied five holes going out. He picked up his only bogey on his 10th hole, missing a six-foot putt, before finishing the round with a 15-foot birdie.
Burns, with two tour victories in 10 years, required only 25 putts for his round.
"It's a long time since I had one of those," he said.
Ayako Okamoto of Japan birdied the last three holes and used only 25 putts to shoot a six-under-par 66 for the first-round lead in the $400,000 LPGA McDonald's Champiopnship at Malvern, Pa.
It was her fewest number of putts in a round in three years of tournament play in the United States. She has won 30 tournaments in Japan and America.
Okamoto held a one-stroke lead over Myra Blackwelder, who birdied six holes and bogeyed one.
Beth Daniel, the 1983 winner who dropped out last year because of back problems, was in third place at 68 with Alice Miller, last week's runner-up for the LPGA Championship and the tour's leading money-winner this year.
Nancy Lopez, the current LPGA champion, birdied four holes and bogeyed one in joining Marta Figueras-Dotti of Spain and Patti Rizzo at 69.