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Purtzer Nearly Joins a Magic Club

He just misses a 59 and takes a four-shot lead after the first round at Newport Beach.

March 20, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Days like Friday don't come along that often, so Tom Purtzer figured he would try to make the best of it.

Never mind the racing heart, sweaty palms and uncontrollable thoughts popping into his head: Purtzer had his sights on golf's magic number.

A three-iron shot into a bunker on the par-five 18th at Newport Beach Country Club effectively ended his assault on 59, but Purtzer got up and down for birdie, shot an 11-under-par 60 and has a four-shot lead after the first round of the Toshiba Senior Classic.

The score ties the Champions Tour all-time scoring record, is a course record, eclipsing the 62 Hale Irwin shot in the final round of the 1998 tournament, and is two shots better than Purtzer's previous best score.

"Coming in here, I really wasn't expecting much," Purtzer said. "As I got going, I really wasn't thinking anything special until I started making a couple of birdies on the backside. Once I made eagle, then things really turned around. I felt like I kind of had a shot at 59, and I don't get too many shots at that."

Purtzer's eagle came when he rolled in a five-foot putt on the par-five 15th. That got him to nine under. He birdied the difficult 16th, then faced the 17th, a 185-yard par-three over water.

"I made the birdie on 16 and it kind of was, 'Here we go,' " Purtzer said. "When you start going low, you tend to tighten up a little bit. Things just don't come quite as easy. But I was hitting good shots even though I was getting a little -- not nervous -- anxious a little bit about the score and going low."

He hit a solid tee shot on No. 17 but missed a difficult 14-foot breaking putt for birdie. His two-foot par putt nearly missed too, but it dropped in the back edge of the hole for par, setting the stage at No. 18.

Needing an eagle for a 59, Purtzer hit a 298-yard drive down the middle and had 217 left to an accessible pin placement. The approach shot strayed into a bunker but was pin high and Purtzer didn't give up hope.

"I was trying to make it, definitely," he said.

The ball hit the green but never really had a chance. It trickled six feet below the hole and Purtzer stroked it in for a birdie. He hit 17 greens in regulation, 10 of 14 fairways and needed only 25 putts. He had 11 one-putt greens, including the first five holes.

He birdied four of the first five holes in a front-nine 31, made seven threes the back nine and bettered his previous best round at the course by seven strokes. Improved wedge play with the assistance of swing coach Butch Harmon was the key.

"If you were to ask me if this golf course sets up for me, before today, I would have had to say not really," he said. "On this golf course you kind of feel like you have to go at the pins. A lot of times we've got wedges in our hands. Until this year, I've been better off hitting seven-irons than I have been with a wedge."

Joe Inman shot 64 and is in second place. Morris Hatalsky shot 65 and is in third. Fuzzy Zoeller is among a group of four who shot 66. Jack Nicklaus, playing the Toshiba for the first time, shot 71 and is tied for 36th.

"I had a lot of fairly easy shots, but I came up with nothing," Nicklaus said. "I was left, right -- it was a little bit of army golf. I was all over the place."

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