By Cary Estes, Special to PGATOUR.COM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Bob Gilder emerged from the scorer’s tent following his first round of play at the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek, looked at the half dozen media members waiting to interview him and jokingly recoiled in horror.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve done this,” the 62-year-old Gilder said with a smile.
Indeed, Gilder has not turned in a round like he had Thursday all year. He shot a 3-under 69, leaving him tied for ninth. And it could have been even better, if not for a three-putt bogey on the 17th hole. Even with that late misstep, it still was easily the best opening round of the season for Gilder, who has finished over par in each of his nine Champions Tour starts this year.
“I’m very happy with today’s round,” Gilder said. “I left a couple out there, but you’re going to do that on a golf course like this. But it’s my best start all year, and hopefully I’ll keep it up.”
Despite his recent struggles, there never was any doubt that Gilder would tee it up at the Regions Tradition. That’s because this is a major on the Champions Tour, and Gilder doesn’t miss majors. Ever. Gilder has played in every major championship since joining the Champions Tour in 2001. He has now taken part in 60 consecutive majors, a Champions Tour record.
“I had no idea,” Gilder said when informed of the milestone. “I don’t really keep track of anything like that. I just want to keep playing and playing hard. I’ve lasted this long, still playing some decent golf. I’m just happy to be out here.”
There was a time when Gilder was one of the better players on the Champions Tour. He has 10 victories, seven runner-up finishes and nine third-place showings in his career. He has accumulated 66 top-10 finishes and 172 top-25s, and has earned more than $11 million in winnings.
Gilder won a tournament as recently as two years ago, sinking a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to defeat Mark Brooks by one shot in the Principal Charity Classic. But Gilder had only two more top-10 finishes in 12 additional starts that season, and then failed to crack the top 10 a single time in 2012. Things got even worse this year, as Gilder did not manage to break into the top 25 in any of his first nine tournaments. Last week he returned to the Principal Charity Classic and had his worst outing of the season, shooting 13-over par and finishing in 72nd place.
Through it all, Gilder said he remained optimistic that his game would get better. “My scores really haven’t been indicative of the way I’ve felt,” Gilder said. “I feel like I should be playing better. I can’t believe some of the scores I’ve shot lately, the bad scores. It’s just not like me.
“I've been working really hard on my game, I just haven’t been very consistent. I’ve been changing a little bit with my putting. I’m still not sure what to do with that. I practice with a normal grip and then go out there and putt with a claw.”
For one day, at least, those problems seemed to fade away for Gilder, who posted the same score in Thursday’s opening round as did two-time defending Regions Tradition champion Tom Lehman. Gilder said he knew he had a chance to put up a solid round after playing well in Wednesday’s pro-am.
“I really felt good with my irons (Wednesday) and it kind of carried over to today,” Gilder said. “And then I made some putts today, which really made the difference. I made a couple of mistakes – three-putting No. 17 hurt – but all in all I hit some really good shots out there.”
In addition to the concern Gilder has had about his game, he also was worried before Thursday’s round that the conditions at Shoal Creek might be extremely challenge after the course was drenched with 1.7 inches of rain Wednesday afternoon and evening. But Gilder was one of several players who raved about the course on Thursday.
“I was really surprised. This golf course dried out well,” Gilder said. “I mean, the ball actually bounced with some tee balls. The golf course is in such beautiful shape. After all that rain, I’m marveling at how good the golf course is.”
The goal now for Gilder is to continue marveling at the sudden improvement in his play. He is quick to acknowledge that one good round does not solve all his problems. But after teeing it up in 60 consecutive majors (and counting), Gilder also knows that the only way to get better is to keep working.
“It’s been a long haul getting the confidence and the trust there, and I’m just starting to do it now,” Gilder said. “When I do it right, I hit some really good shots. It felt good this week coming in. I’m just going to try to put three more (rounds) together and see what happens.”