Even when Nick Price strayed from the short grass Thursday, he responded with great recovery like this par-saving bunker blast on No. 9. (Photo: The PGA of America)
Even when Nick Price strayed from the short grass Thursday, he responded with great recovery like this par-saving bunker blast on No. 9. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Price corrects driver, cards solid 71 in Senior PGA debut

Nick Price entered the 68th Senior PGA Championship with not a lot of confidence in his driver. But the three-time major winner made a slight correction and it paid off nicely in a first-round 71 at the Ocean Course.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- After playing through high winds during two practice rounds at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, Nick Price quickly realized that to contend at this 68th Senior PGA Championship going crooked with the driver was not an option.

At the time, this revelation wasn't a great thing for the Zimbabwean, who has been struggling with the big dog. But late in the day Wednesday he found something that clicked. He took the new swing to the course for the first round on Thursday and shot a 1-under-par 71 that had him near the top of the leaderboard in the middle of the day.

"I came in on Tuesday and yesterday I was having a little bit of trouble pulling my driver," said Price, who hit nine of 14 fairways in the first round. "And then I fixed it up today. I was just getting a little narrow. And so I got a little wider with my backswing and I hit the ball a lot straighter with the driver today. A little more power, too, which is good."

Along with hitting a shade over 64 percent of his fairways, Price hit half of his greens. So the short game is working well, too -- as evidenced by 11 pars -- which is a must since approach shots are at the mercy of the ever-changing wind.

So is this the same as British Open-type golf? With the wind and the sea, yes. But not the slightly elevated greens.

"Any time you have a raised green and, see, the difference in the British Open when they have a raised green is that the approach is very firm," said Price, who would know having won the 1994 British Open. "So you can pitch the ball 20, 30 yards short of the green and run it up on to the green. Here, just because of irrigation, the water drains off the green and the low lying areas are very soft. So you are forced to play the ball on to the green. And that's the difference with raising the greens as much as he [designer Pete Dye] has here."

Because of the raised greens and the irrigation, Price said "incredibly good iron shots" are required. On the eighth hole, the shortest on the course at 170 yards, Price said he had to slice an iron shot in against a right-to-left wind in order to hold the green. He still walked away with one of his three bogeys on the day since the ball rolled off the left side of the green and he was unable to get up and down.

Price conceded that as windy as it was, he was lucky to have a morning tee time.

"Obviously playing early today was a bonus," he said. "But it really only helped us on the first four holes. The wind was still not anything like it is now, but it was still blowing. I actually had a little scruffy sort of start to my round, even though I birdied No. 3. I made a couple of good par saves. And then the wind started blowing for us around about eight or nine. It was fine until we turned back into the wind on 14."

Even so, Price managed to play even-par golf from No. 14 into the clubhouse.

This is Price's first major championship appearance as a member of the Champions Tour. In six starts since turning 50 in January, the former world No. 1 has struggled a bit. He has three top-25 finishes and his best showing was a tie for seventh at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.

All in all, Price was more than happy to walk off with his 71.

"I figured when the wind started blowing hard today that anywhere around par was going to be a good score," he said. "Even a couple over today. You haven't shot yourself out of the tournament with that or the championship with that score. It's just one of those courses where you just have to keep the ball in play. Otherwise you're going to shoot a big number." 

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