By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
You won’t often hear two professional golfers ecstatic over making a birdie on a par 5, but Brad Faxon and Jeff Sluman waited a year to rectify matters at the 13th hole.
The first-round leaders at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf failed make a 4 on the 595-yard par-5 last year at The Club at Savannah Harbor despite having six tries – two balls for three days in the better-ball format.
“It’s hard to forget,” Sluman said.
There was little wind last year, adding to the insult, but on Friday there were strong breezes throughout the course. So wouldn’t you know, the pair finally got a circle on their card at the 13th when Faxon rolled in an 8-footer.
“I said I’m going to put the pressure on us to birdie this hole this year, not take it off, and somehow we managed to do it,” Faxon said.
The pair walked off the green so excited to get that off their backs that they then rattled off four more birdies over the last five holes to get to 10 under and the lead.
SOLID START: Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman, who finished first and T2 respectively last week at the Greater Gwinnett Championship and own the last three Schwab Cups, opened at 9 under.
A birdie on the final hole from Langer put them in Saturday’s final group alongside Faxon and Sluman.
“We teamed together extremely well,” Lehman said. “Didn’t team up on any birdies, made pars when the other guy made bogeys or maybe made birdies when the other guy made bogeys, so it was a very good partnership.”
Langer and Lehman won the Liberty Mutual in 2009. Langer is the current Schwab Cup leader with two wins in six events this year.
FAMILIAR FEELING: Andy North and Tom Watson are in the hunt in Savannah, which is not news.
The pair won in 2008 and won in the unofficial Raphael Division from 2005-07. On Friday they shot 8 under, two back of the leaders and two ahead of fellow competitors Fred Couples and Jay Haas.
That foursome drew the biggest galleries in the first round, and more birdies fell the way of the two 63-year-olds.
“Tom and I have a lot of fun doing this. We enjoy the week,” North said. “We’ve played so much golf with each other, you kind of help each other during the course of the week. We don’t have enough of these kinds of events. It’s a ball.”
North and Watson bogeyed the par-4 sixth hole, the sworn enemy of a better-ball format, but rebounded for three consecutive birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11 and then three in the last four holes.
WALRUS SIGHTING: There is no shortage of older players in contention, from North/Watson to Gil Morgan and Tom Kite at 8 under.
But 59-year-old Craig Stadler would qualify as a surprise, also at 8 under with partner Kirk Triplett.
Stadler won eight times in a two-year burst in 2003-04 on the Champions Tour but hasn’t finished higher than seventh in an individual event in the last five years. (He finished second twice with partner Jeff Sluman at the Liberty Mutual in 2008 and 2009.)
Yet “the walrus” is hopeful that like his peers of similar ages, he’s got some good golf left.
“I think I can (win) if I ever figure out a couple things that haven’t gone too right for a while now. Unfortunately I’ve had various things with hurting and injuries for about five years and it hasn’t been much fun,” Stadler said.
“It gets to the point where it seems almost like the harder I work sometimes, the worse it gets, and that’s leading to the point where you think twice whether you want to keep doing this or just call it a day and play sparingly. But I’m still competitive and I still think I can play, but I need to get way more consistent.”
RAPHAEL DIVISION: In the 36-hole unofficial competition, the teams of Ian Baker-Finch/Bart Bryant and Keith Fergus/Blaine McCallister are tied after 7-under 65s. Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie, three-time Raphael winners, are one shot back.
Raphael play concludes on Saturday, with tee times prior to the Legends division.