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Tom Watson will take three more thrill rides like Thursday if they lead to the title. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tom Watson will take three more thrill rides like Thursday if they lead to the title. (Photo: Getty Images)

Notebook: Watson opens with a roller coaster ride

Tom Watson enjoyed an excellent adventure on several holes Thursday. Plus, James Blair snags the early-bird eagle, Gil Morgan posts the lowest opening score since 1999, Tony Saraceno turns in a round to remember (and forget), and more.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor

EDMOND, Okla. -- Tom Watson's opening-round 3-under-par 68 at the 67th Senior PGA Championship at Oak Tree Golf Club certainly wasn't the prettiest 18 holes of golf he's ever played. After someone suggested his round, which included seven birdies, two bogeys and a double-bogey, was like a roller coaster ride, Watson displayed his famous grin and nodded in agreement.

"It was 'Tom's Excellent Adventure' out there on a couple of holes," he said. "Starting with the very first tee ball, I hit it straight right in the trees and had to try to hit it over the water with a low cut 3-iron. I knocked it in the bunker and then knocked it out to about 20 feet and three-putted for an easy bogey."

He bounced back nicely at the second hole, draining an eight-footer for birdie. But No. 4 proved to be the screamer-ride at Tom's Excellent Adventure Park.

"I had a 6-iron in my hand and I pulled it into the water," he said. "Hit the right distance, but just pulled it left and in the water it went, and a double-bogey later I'm back to 2-over-par."

With three birdies in succession beginning at No. 7, Watson made the turn at 1-under, picked up a bogey and three more birdies on the back and was pleased with where he stood.

"It was a roller coaster round, it was up and down, but I'm very happy about it," he said. "Seven birdies on this golf course -- I hope I can maintain that average for the next three rounds."

Watson continues to enjoy Champions Tour success in the Oklahoma City area. He won the 2002 Senior Tour Championship at the nearby Gaillardia Golf and Country Club after finishing T-4 a year earlier in the event. Of the 13 rounds he has played in 2006, Watson has finished under par in 12 of those with nine rounds in the 60s.

THEME PARK THEME: While on the topic of adventure parks, how about James Blair? Blair, the PGA Director of Golf at Mulligan's Golf and Games in North Ogden, Utah, made the 67th Senior PGA Championship's first eagle Thursday.

He didn't waste much time, either. Playing in his second Senior PGA Championship, Blair canned a 139-yard pitching wedge on the very first hole for the eagle 2.

"The roar was nice," Blair said. "I was hitting a little, low wedge. I had a little tree limb that was in my way. I was just trying to hit a little draw and I hit a good shot, it got a good bounce off the hill and rolled in the hole."

While he was excited about the start, Blair said it was tarnished because of his back-nine 41.

"It was fun to get off to that start, but I threw it away on the back side," he said. "When the wind stopped blowing, it got too hot and now I'm about wiped out."

BIG-LEAGUERS ON THE LINKS: Rick Rhoden, former big-league pitcher and all-star on the celebrity golf circuit, opened the 67th Senior PGA Championship with a 72. In three Senior PGA Championship appearances, that was Rhoden's best round by five shots.

"I hope I play the rest as good as I played today," Rhoden said. "I should have shot about 4-under today. I played really good. I got careless on a couple. I let a couple get away and then just missed a couple of real makeable putts, like five or six feet. But anything around par is pretty good. This is a hard course."

Caddying for Rhoden is another former big-leaguer, Mickey Tettleton. Tettleton, a two-time all-star catcher/designated hitter with the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, is a member at Oak Tree. He and Rhoden shared the same baseball agent and became friends years ago.

Being Rhoden's caddie, Tettleton said, is similar to a pitcher/catcher relationship.

"Knowing what to say and when to say it has probably been the biggest thing," he said. "I think that if anything, I may be a little bit passive, but as Rick said, he's got the final decision. I do appreciate the fact that he trusts me enough for reads on putts and yardages and stuff like that, but it's basically the same thing as a pitcher/catcher relationship -- it's his decision."

DOUBLE (BOGEY) TROUBLE: Mike San Filippo, the reigning champion of the Callaway Golf PGA Senior Club Professional Championship, had some problems Thursday at Oak Tree.

He shot a 7-over 78 in the first round, carding six bogeys and one double-bogey to go along with one birdie. The double-bogey came at No. 1, which was San Filippo's 10th hole of the day.

"The course was great," said an optimistic San Filippo, who will have to fight hard on Friday to avoid missing the cut for the first time in four starts at the Senior PGA. "We really had a nice morning to play. I'm sure you?re going to se some good scores today. The greens weren't too fast and I thought it played rather easy."

GOOD, BAD, UGLY: Tony Saraceno, the 56-year-old PGA Head Professional at Cortland Country Club in Cortland, N.Y., turned in one of the most colorful rounds of the day with his 5-over 76.

Playing the back nine first, Saraceno erased two bogeys with two birdies and an eagle. The eagle came at No. 16, a 528-yard par 5, and helped him make the turn with an enviable 2-under 33. Before a bogey on his eighth hole of the day, Saraceno actually had a share of the lead at 3-under with Jay Haas and Watson.

When he made the turn to the front nine -- his back nine -- things got ugly.

First there was a triple-bogey-7 on No. 2. Then it got real ugly, as he quadruple-bogeyed the par-5 third hole. In just three holes Saraceno went from 2-under to 4-over -- a six-shot swing.

Saraceno didn't let the hiccups get the best of him, though, closing his round with two straight birdies.

TOUGH LUCK: The highest score in the first round was a 93, recorded by Dan Monday. The Head Professional from Redlands Country Club in California had four pars, 10 bogeys, one double-bogey, two triple-bogeys and a trunk-slamming quadruple-bogey.

THE GOOD DOCTOR: Gil Morgan's 5-under 66 was the lowest opening-round score at the Senior PGA Championship since Bruce Summerhays fired a 6-under 66 in 1999 at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

This marks the sixth time in his career that Morgan has led or shared a first-round lead in a Champions Tour major championship. Morgan also was the first round co-leader at this event in 2004, when he shared opening-round honors with Hale Irwin, Jay Haas and Tom Watson after the quartet opened with 4-under 67s. Ironically, two of the others -- Watson and Haas -- are currently tied for third. Morgan eventually finished T-7 in 2004 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

NO BOGEYS HERE: Jim Thorpe and Jose Rivero were the only players in the 156-man field to play bogey-free golf on Thursday.

GILDED GREENS: Bob Gilder, who won the 2001 Senior Tour Championship at Gaillardia, shot a 1-under-par 70 and is T-11. Gilder needed just 23 putts on Thursday, fewest by any player in the field.

TOUGH TASK: Oak Tree's 192-yard, par 3 fourth hole was the most difficult on Thursday (3.455/+.455). Only three players made birdies made during the round: R.W. Eaks, Ron Streck and Des Smyth.

THE DEFENSE BEGINS: Defending champion Mike Reid opened with an even-par 71 and is currently T-21. The 2004 winner Hale Irwin is T-53, while 2003 champion Fuzzy Zoeller is T-117.

ROCKIN' ROBERTS: Loren Roberts, the Champions Tour money-leader, opened with a 3-under 68, marking his 18th round in the 60s in 25 starts this year. His 18 rounds in the 60s represent a Champions Tour best. His 68.38 first-round scoring average coming into this event was also tops in that category on the Champions Tour.

LAST IN: Rocky Thompson of Houston, Texas, replaced John Chillas in the field on Thursday after Chillas was unable to start due to a bout with flu. Thompson carded a 12-over 83.

Bob Denney of The PGA of America contributed to this report.

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