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GOLF ROUNDUP: Chapman leads Senior PGA; Albany's Skinner shoots 6-over in first round, nine back of lead

Allbany golf pro Sonny Skinner

Allbany golf pro Sonny Skinner

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — After playing only one event on the European Senior Tour, Roger Chapman showed up at the Senior PGA Championship in fine form.

Chapman shot a 3-under 68 on Thursday to take the first-round lead at Harbor Shores. Chapman tied for 16th this month in the Mallorca Open — and that’s about all he’s done this season.

“We have only played one event in Europe this year, so this is probably my fourth real competitive round this year,” the Englishman said. “It’s a long way to come, a long wait. But I’m very pleased with the way things are going.”

John Cook was a stroke back, and Steve Pate, J.L. Lewis, Jeff Sluman, Jay Haas, David Frost and Jim Carter shot 70.

Chapman tied for 27th last year in the Senior PGA in Kentucky, his best showing in his first three starts in the major championship.

Albany golf pro Sonny Skinner of River Pointe Golf Club was 6-over and nine shots off the lead one year after he finished as a tournament’s low club pro.

Skinner, who is making his second career appearance in the Senior PGA Tour’s most prestigious major, will tee off today in his second round at 9:30 a.m. at Harbour Shores.

Harbor Shores opened two years ago for its first full season, and the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout gave players quite a challenge on a windy day along the shore of Lake Michigan. Chapman hit all 13 fairways and made five birdies and two bogeys. He birdied Nos. 7, 8 and 9 on the part of the course closest to the lake.

“My expectations were, just go in and come into the tournament and play as well as I can,” Chapman said. “And I must say I’m very happy with what’s happened today, so just keep it going.”

Chapman’s performance came somewhat out of nowhere after his pedestrian showing in Europe.

“We had one event, our first event, which was second week in May. We lost a couple sponsors in China and Brunei, which we normally play a couple in March,” he explained. “We never really start very early anyway, but this is probably normally about the third or fourth event of the year.”

Defending champion Tom Watson is sitting out the tournament because of a wrist problem. Four-time champion Hale Irwin shot 71 — a solid score that puts him in position to contend again if he can keep it up. Irwin last won the event in 2004, but finished fourth last year.

Fred Couples, who won at Fallen Oak in Mississippi on the Champions Tour in March, made a double bogey on the par-5 15th and shot 76.

“Anything under par is a good score,” he said. “It’s just another round of golf. I’m 52 years old. If I’m worried what I shot every single round, then that’s a problem.”

Cook has three top-five finishes on the Champions Tour this year. He missed four fairways, but had only one bogey.

“Today the wind decided it was going to switch completely on us right from the first tee ball. We were trying to figure out what to do there,” Cook said. “I know the wind’s supposed to be different almost every single day. I know it’s supposed to be hot on Sunday. So it just, it just adds those variables.”

Bernhard Langer and Mark Calcavecchia shot 73. Fred Funk, coming off a victory May 6 at The Woodlands in the last Champions Tour’s event, had a 74. Tom Lehman shot 76.


PGA TOUR:

Z. JOHNSON LEADS COLONIAL:

FORT WORTH, Texas — Zach Johnson stood behind the fourth green looking at his club and then the ball that rolled within 4 feet of the hole.

“I got lucky,” Johnson said about his second shot on the 244-yard par 3 — his 13th hole Thursday — after his tee shot went through the green and stopped in a clump of grass.

Three holes later, Johnson was so deep in a greenside bunker that he couldn’t even be seen from the other side of the green until he popped up to watch his blast over the ridge to 2 1/2 feet from the cup.

Those par-savers were part of a bogey-free 6-under 64 that gave him a one-stroke lead after the first round in the Colonial, where 20-30 mph wind with higher gusts whipped through the big oak trees lining the fairways.

“Today was great. I got off to a good start, just hit some quality shots. I didn’t put myself ever in a position that was too worrisome,” Johnson said. “I kept the golf course in front me. I attacked when I could attack. I had a couple of nice saves when I needed it. … I’ve got zero complaints.”

Jason Dufner, rookie Harris English, Tom Gillis and Kyle Reifers were tied for second.

Dufner won the Byron Nelson Championship last week, and both of his PGA Tour victories have come in the last four weeks. He started at Colonial with three consecutive birdies, was 5 under after a 10-foot birdie putt at the 174-yard eighth hole, then overcame two bogeys in a three-hole stretch.

Johnson opened with a 40-foot birdie putt at the 396-yard 10th hole on way to his 13th consecutive under-par round at Hogan’s Alley. He set the Colonial tournament scoring record with his 21-under 259 in 2010, when he had a pair of 64s in his last PGA Tour victory.

After hitting into a greenside bunker at the 435-yard 12th, he blasted to 9 feet to save par.

“The big putt that got me going,” he said. He then had four consecutive birdies, a span that included two par 3s and all the putts between 14-21 feet.

Sergio Garcia, the 2001 Colonial champ in the same group as Johnson, shot a 66 to match Chris DiMarco, Tommy Gainey and Andres Romero.

The 22-year-old English had never played a full round at Colonial until Thursday. That came three days after he shot rounds of 60 and 63 during a British Open qualifier at Gleneagles. That is a much more wide-open layout just outside of Dallas about an hour from Colonial.

“Three bogey-free rounds I have had in a row, which I’ve never done,” English said. “I’m playing solid golf and not really getting out of position. I’m getting my putter going. I’m hitting it to 15 or 20 feet a lot and seemed to be making a good many of those. It’s just been good.”

English, a winner last year on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur, has made 11 of 14 cuts in his first season on the PGA Tour.

Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, hasn’t won since slipping on that winner’s plaid jacket at Colonial two years ago. But he has made all 12 cuts this year, with a runner-up finish at Hilton Head and a tie for second at The Players Championship in his three previous events.

Garcia had an eagle-3 at the 558-yard No. 1, getting him to 5 under through 10 holes. His only bogey came after hitting his tee shot at the dogleg-left third hole into a greenside bunker, and he saved par out of bunkers his last two holes. He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in four years.

Defending Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial champion David Toms, in the group with Johnson and Garcia, had only one birdie in an opening 74. Last year, the 45-year-old Toms started with consecutive rounds of 62 to match the PGA Tour scoring record for the first 36 holes of a tournament.

Duner’s approach at No. 9 was just off the back fringe, and he chipped to 6 feet before his par putt circled the cup without falling. A 25-foot birdie attempt at No. 10 rolled over the right edge of the cup, then he bogeyed the 635-yard 11th hole when his third shot went in a greenside bunker and he then two-putted from 9 feet.

Dufner was playing with Matt Kuchar, who two weeks ago won The Players Championship, and Rickie Fowler, The Players runner-up who the week before that got his first PGA Tour victory at Quail Hollow.

Kuchar’s only birdie in a round of 72 came on the par-5 No. 1. Fowler birdied two of the last three holes for a 68.

“Decent. Not good, not bad,” Fowler said. “It’s nice to make two birdies in the last three holes and get back under par and give me some momentum.”

Divots: Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen shot 71, ending his round with an eagle by holing his approach from 117 yards at the par-4 18th. … Ben Crane’s round of 70 included six birdies, six bogeys and six pars. … Hunter Mahan, the only other two-time winner this season besides Dufner, shot a 69 with three bogeys. … Sean O’Hair withdrew because of a neck issue.

BMW CHAMPIONSHIP:

VIRGINIA WATER, England — Leaders Peter Lawrie and David Drysdale each shot 6-under 66s Thursday at the BMW PGA Championship, leaving a frustrated top-ranked Rory McIlroy and his high-ranking rivals trailing after the first round.

McIlroy had five bogeys and a double bogey in his round of 74 to go with three birdies and an eagle. On the par-5, 12th he hurled his club after a poor provisional shot, which came after he sent his second shot out of bounds en route to a bogey 6.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” said McIlroy, whose No. 1 ranking is under threat from Luke Donald this week. “I feel like I’m playing well, I just need to go out there and shoot a score.”

Lawrie had four birdies and an eagle in an error-free round and the 291st-ranked Drysdale had seven birdies and a bogey in good weather at Wentworth.

Jamie Donaldson and Justin Rose had 67s, while second-ranked Donald joined a group two shots back after a 68.

McIlroy could be fined should his actions be deemed against the European Tour’s guidelines on course etiquette.

“I have not yet had the chance to view the incident but I will be requesting a tape and if any breach … is found, then appropriate action will be taken in due course,” tournament director David Garland said.

McIlroy said his club-throwing outburst on the 12th, one of four par 5s on the course, was simply a release of frustration.

“You think about the par 5s and you should be taking advantage there,” he said. “Standing on the first tee, 3 or 4 under is the worst you should be shooting.”

The par 5s weren’t the problem — he eagled No. 4 and birdied No. 17. Putting that let him down, especially around the turn where he dropped four shots in five holes, culminating in the error-ridden showing on No. 12.

“I struggled with the pace of the greens,” said McIlroy, who has had to adjust to the slowness of the putting surfaces after being based in the United States.

His missed cut at The Players Championship two weeks ago was the first time he failed to make the weekend in 23 tournaments.

His consistent run helped him to the top of the rankings for the first time in March thanks to a win at the Honda Classic and again in April. On both occasions, he replaced Donald.

However, at the BMW PGA Championship, he has only one top-10 finish in four previous tournaments.