Nick Price joined the Champions Tour a year ago with a standout record on the PGA Tour -- and a crisis of confidence.
Despite winning 18 tournaments in his career, including the British Open and the PGA Championship twice, the South African's skills had abandoned him when he turned 50 and joined the senior circuit.
But now Price is rebounding, and he fired a six-under-par 66 on a blustery day to take the first-round lead Friday in the AT&T Champions Classic at Valencia Country Club.
"I felt like my game had gone and left me," said Price, whose round included four straight birdies. "But it's starting to come back now. All in all, a really good day."
Defending champion Tom Purtzer, who beat Loren Roberts in a playoff in 2007, was second with a five-under 67.
Dana Quigley was another shot back in third. Roberts also picked up where he left off in the tournament, shooting a 69.
It was Price's first appearance at the nearly 7,000-yard Valencia course in Santa Clarita that's considered one of the toughest layouts on the Champions Tour.
Price said he was gratified to play well on a challenging course amid the gusty winds. But he also remained cautious.
"Golf is a game of momentum," he said. "Golf is a game where you just don't suddenly get confident. I really haven't been in the hunt that much."
Moreover, the field was bracing for colder conditions for today's second round of the 54-hole tournament. Temperatures were forecast to drop to the mid-50s with more stiff winds and a chance of late-afternoon showers.
Purtzer and Roberts finished at 10-under 206 a year ago before their playoff, but this year, "six or seven under might win it if it's going to be cold and windy like they say," said Don Pooley, who shot a 71.
Even Friday, "distance control was tough" with the swirling wind, said Pooley, who grew up in Riverside and has two Champion Tour wins.
Bernhard Langer, who won the Toshiba Classic in Newport Beach last Sunday, also opened with a 71, five shots back.
Purtzer's round included making a 20-foot putt for eagle on the par-five ninth hole. "Any time you go out on this golf course under par, you've got to feel pretty happy," Purtzer said.
Price said his game suffered in recent years after he "got into some bad habits" with his swing, mostly in an effort to hit the ball farther, "and I couldn't break out of them."
Now, he has his first lead in 18 tournaments on the Champions Tour. "I'm trying to get back to where I was once," he said. "I hope that I play solidly tomorrow and give myself the opportunity to win on Sunday."
Scott Hoch, who was leading the tour's championship standings heading into Valencia, withdrew before the first round because of a back ailment. Hoch, 52, won two of the season's first five events.