BIRMINGHAM, Ala. –
Kenny Perry made a couple of early birdie putts from about 20 feet, mostly steered clear of trouble and finished well.
Perry birdied the final hole for an 8-under 64 and a two-stroke lead Thursday in the Regions Tradition, the first of five PGA Tour Champions majors.
“I mean, I didn’t miss a green,” he said. “I putted for birdies or eagles on every hole so took a lot of pressure off myself by doing that. I hit the ball nicely, drove it beautifully, hit lots of fairways. Was able to attack the par 5s.”
Bernhard Langer matched him going into the final hole. Then Langer bogeyed No. 18 for a 66 to fall into a second-place tie with Gene Sauers at Greystone Golf and Country Club, hosting its first PGA Tour Champions event since the Bruno’s Memorial Classic in 2005.
Perry won the Regions Tradition a few miles away at Shoal Creek in 2014, and the 14-time PGA Tour winner started on a roll. He birdied five of the first eight holes in a bogey-free round, including the two long putts during that hot start.
He was in a tie going into 18 with Langer, who had three straight birdies starting on No. 11.
Billy Andrade was three strokes back at 67. Defending champion Jeff Maggert was among seven players four shots behind.
Langer, who has not finished worse than 11th this year, needed two attempts to escape the greenside bunker on 18. The two-time Masters winner, who leads the tour in scoring average, then two-putted.
“I bladed it,” Langer said about his first bunker shot. “I was just trying to bank it against it but not fly it into the netting. No other way to get it close. It was a very bad trap.”
He said he had hit “a beautiful 3-wood” that kicked right and into the sand.
Sauers, who tied for third at last year’s Regions Tradition, had birdies on four of the final six holes, including 18. The three-time PGA Tour winner has four runner-up finishes on the 50-and-over circuit. His only bogey came on the par-5 fifth hole.
Sauers started practicing a new putting grip a couple of days before leaving for the Insperity Invitational, where he tied for 12th after a closing 67.
“I made some putts where before I wasn’t making the putts and now I’m really rolling it better and I’m kind of going cross-handed, left hand low,” Sauers said. “This is my second week for it, so I should have done it 20 years ago.”
With an eagle and a double bogey, John Daly finished his first round in a PGA Tour Champions major with a 70. He made an eagle from the fairway on the 435-yard fifth hole. Two holes later, came the double bogey after Daly’s drive went into the rough.
“Getting into this thing is pretty cool, I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “But having a start like that is kind of cool. My last round at Houston I had it going but didn’t finish it, so I’ve just got to keep going and try to finish these good starts.”
In the meantime, he relished having a big following around Greystone – and not having to worry about making a cut.
“Oh, it’s great, man. It’s just awesome,” Daly said. “That’s what’s cool. They get me for three or four days now instead of two, so it’s good to work on weekends again.”
Jesper Parnevik, who’s coming off a four-stroke victory at the Insperity Invitational, finished with a 70. He was 3 over on the final three holes, including a double bogey on No. 18.
With rain and thunderstorms forecast for Friday, Perry expects the scoring and conditions to change significantly. Play will start on two tees with tour officials aiming for a mid-afternoon finish.
“I’m not a great rainy (day) player,” he said. “I have trouble hanging onto the club and stuff, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Stephen Ames of Calgary and St. Catharines, Ont., native Rod Spittle sit T39 at even-par.