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Easygoing Sindelar takes lead in Valencia with a 64

March 14, 2009|James Wagner

In his transplanted-Kentuckian-growing-up-in-New-York manner, Joey Sindelar is patently a nice guy.

And like every self-deprecating golfer, Sindelar opted to focus on the shortcomings of his short game instead of the eight-under-par 64 that he fired Friday in the opening round of the AT&T Champions Classic at the Valencia Country Club.

His score leads second-place Tom Purtzer by a stroke. But beyond the two men, there is plenty of cushion because third place was at least another two strokes behind.

Purtzer's and Sindelar's long drives and accurate second shots threw them into contention Friday.

But Sindelar, who with this weekend's tournament will conclude his first full year on the senior circuit, once again brought up his flaws.

"History is a beautiful thing and some of us don't have it," the 50-year-old said, referring, of course, to himself.

Both Purtzer and Sindelar are known for their long ball, which is a decided advantage at the 6,959-yard and often windy course nestled along Interstate 5.

After concluding their opening rounds, many golfers continued fiddling with their long game, opting for the driving range over the putting greens.

Sindelar, however, noted he needed to work on his putting.

"I've always enjoyed being a ball striker, but it isn't what wins tournaments," he said.

"And I've decided it only took me 25 years to figure that out."

When he missed one of those putts, a long one on the sixth hole, there was no cursing or tantrums from the broad-shouldered man.

The worst the gentle Sindelar could muster was a slight smack of the putter head.

During his post-round comments, Sindelar spoke critically of the middle stretch of his day, equating sitting atop the leaderboard at five under par through seven holes with taking a "lunch break."

But after that, he knocked in a birdie on the eighth hole and an eagle on the ninth to drop to eight under and finish the day with six birdies overall.

Purtzer also finished strong, carding two of his seven birdies in the final three holes for a round of 65.

Before rushing off to a dermatologist's appointment (there's nothing wrong, he said), Sindelar even bothered to stop and answer some final questions.

"If you're not having fun doing this, why do it?" he said, with a firm handshake and smile.

What now?

For the foreseeable future, this may be the last Champions Tour event held at Valencia.

Telecommunications giant AT&T's title sponsorship contract ends this year, leaving future funding in question.

The original eight-year contract ended in 2008, but the company extended it another year to buy time for a new sponsor to emerge, said Brian Fitzgerald, executive director of AT&T's golf program.

The PGA is looking for a new sponsor.

--

james.wagner@latimes.com

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