PGA Tour veteran J.L. Lewis of Austin, Texas, and Frankie Minoza of the Philippines, a long-time competitor on the Japan Tour and Asian Tour, share the first-round lead at the Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament at TPC Eagle Trace after opening round 6-under-par 66s on Tuesday. Fred Holton, Phil Blackmar and John Morse are tied for third at 5-under-par 67.
Lewis got off to the day’s fastest start, opening with a 5-under-par 31 on the front nine, including consecutive birdies on Nos. 4-6. He got to 6 under after chipping to six inches on No. 10. His only blemish in his round came at No. 11, where he three-putted for his lone bogey, but regained a share of the lead by chipping in from 30 feet on No. 14.
“I’m happy with my score and I was pleased with my short game today,” Lewis said. “I’ve been working on my short game the last three weeks and it’s kind of paid off. All I’ve done is hit wedges for three hours a day for about the last three weeks so that part of my game is pretty good. I chipped it close a few times and hit a few wedges in there so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Lewis made his Champions Tour debut last summer at the Senior British Open and played in 12 events, finishing 60th on the money list in his abbreviated season. He won twice on the PGA Tour.
Minoza, a seven-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, is seeking one of the five fully-exempt berths that are available at this year’s 72-hole event. The native of the Phillipines also won numerous titles throughout Asia and at one time was among the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings (1998).
This year’s field also includes a number of former PGA Tour winners trying to secure their playing rights for 2011. Here is where several of those former champions stand after the opening round: Keith Clearwater (T6), Trevor Dodds (T23), Tom Byrum (T34), Fulton Allem (T44), Ronnie Black (T44), Bobby Clampett (T44), Willie Wood (T56), Mark Carnevale (T56), Mike Donald (T65), Blaine McCallister (T73) and Tim Simpson (T73). Also seeking a Champions Tour card is Barry Lane, a five-time winner on the European Tour. He is currently tied for 23rd.
There will be no cut in the 72-hole qualifier. At the end of 72 holes, the top five finishers earn fully-exempt status for the 2011 season, while the next seven players will be conditionally exempt. In addition, the top 30 finishers and ties will be eligible to compete for spots in open qualifiers at all co-sponsored events on the Champions Tour in 2010.