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Zoeller joins crowd for Toshiba lead

Six are tied at six under par, with more than a dozen close behind. A short, fast Newport Beach course helps.

March 10, 2007|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Fuzzy Zoeller's early opinion of the Toshiba Classic is that there will be more than a few happy AARP-eligible golfers when the weekend is over.

The first day of the Champions Tour event at Newport Beach Country Club produced a crowd at the top. Zoeller, Ben Crenshaw, Jay Haas, Eduardo Romero, Tom Purzter and R.W. Eaks were tied at six-under-par 65, with three others lurking one behind and 11 more two behind. The cluster on Friday was a product of a comparatively short course with driver-friendly, fast fairways. At 6,584 yards, the course is the second shortest on the tour.

"Spectators want to see birdies; the tour is designed around them," Zoeller said. "There will be a lot of them this weekend if the weather cooperates. That's good; when you're 50, you should be enjoying this."

Zoeller had five birdies on the back nine, allowing him to keep pace with Romero's fast start. Crenshaw, Purzter, Haas and Eaks came on late to share the lead.

The low rounds left Haas shaking his head. "I think you had to be four-under just to get on the leaderboard," he said.

Of the 78 golfers competing, 43 shot below par, including Peter Jacobsen, who, with Morris Hatalsky and Allen Doyle, was at five under a week after undergoing laser back surgery.

The pace may continue, with the warmer weather predicted over the weekend.

"I talked to the supervisor and he said they've had about an inch and a half of rain," Crenshaw said of the unusually dry winter. "The course is running a bit and it's dry. It's not a killer course, but you have to be careful in spots or you'll get yourself in trouble."

Crenshaw, 55, is trying for his first win since joining the Champions Tour in 2002. He had three consecutive birdies, sinking medium putts on the third and fourth holes before two-putting on the fifth.

"I had two good rounds in the pro-am [Wednesday and Thursday] and I'm trying to keep that feeling going," Crenshaw said. "I had rhythm and timing out there. As long as I don't get too quick, I'll be OK. I feel I'm playing well enough to win."

Crenshaw's last PGA Tour victory was in the 1995 Masters. "I've played my best golf in a different era," he said.

This was the first time Crenshaw had led or shared the lead after the first day since joining the Champions Tour.

Crenshaw, whose best finish last season was a fourth-place tie in the AT&T Championship, was aware he needed a good touch around the greens. "There are subtle tilts that you have to be aware of or you'll pay for it," he said.

Zoeller learned that on the first hole. With a likely birdie in hand, he said he got greedy and took a bogey.

"That was the only blip for me out there today," Zoeller said. "It's like the pig and the hog. A pig gets fat, a hog gets slaughtered. I tried to be a hog there and I got slaughtered."

Still, Zoeller said, "I wish we played more courses like this. They're fun to play."

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