BENTON HARBOR: Steven Alker of New Zealand and Bob Estes posted 7-under-par 64s to tie for the first-round lead yesterday at the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Mich.
The pair was just ahead of Canadian Mike Weir and PGA teaching professional Paul Claxton, who shot 6-under 65s at Harbor Shores Resort.
Alker, who never played in a PGA Championship in his younger days, eagled his first hole at the PGA Tour Champions’ equivalent major. He scored an eagle 3 at the par-5 10th hole and cruised through his round with five birdies and just one bogey.
Alker turned 50 less than a year ago and has already racked up three wins since becoming eligible for the senior circuit. He also leads the Charles Schwab Cup money list for the season.
He mentioned he had some “jitters” playing in a group with legends Bernhard Langer and Ernie Els.
“If you had said eight, nine months ago that I would be here, I’d probably be tell you you were lying,” Alker said.
Estes, meanwhile, completed a bogey-free round with five of his seven birdies coming on his second nine. The four-time PGA Tour winner has a T5 and a T10 at the Senior PGA and is hunting for his first major title.
He birdied the par-5 ninth, his final hole, to match Alker’s score.
“I hit a pretty good drive,” Estes said. “Got it down there far enough where I could maybe get to the front of the green and I had a 5-wood that I hit just a little bit thin and low off of the downslope and it came up just short of the green. Little chip-and-run with a pitching wedge and pitched it up there, you know, within a foot and tapped in for birdie.”
Claxton, 54, is the defending Senior PGA Professional champion, which allowed him to qualify for the major. The head club pro at Richmond Hill Golf Club in Georgia opened his round with three straight birdies and had a 4-under 32 going out.
Duffy Waldorf and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson were tied for fifth at 5 under. A large tie at 4 under included Els, the former world No 1 from South Africa, and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has won two senior majors.
Defending champion Alex Cejka of Germany shot a 3-under 68, as did countryman Langer.
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