Eduardo Romero said winning the Senior PGA Championship would be
Eduardo Romero said winning the Senior PGA Championship would be "one of the more important things in my life." (Photo: AP)

'El Gato' sneaks up on Ocean Course for stellar 68

Eduardo Romero is known as "El Gato" for the way he stealthily stalks and overcomes opponents. The Argentinean was all that and more Thursday during the first round of the Senior PGA Championship.

By Lauren Deason, Editorial Coordinator

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- In golf, there's no shortage of animal nicknames that personify a player. The Golden Bear for Jack Nicklaus. The Walrus for Craig Stadler. The Shark for Greg Norman. Even Eldrick Woods is simply known as Tiger.

Eduardo Romero earned the nickname "El Gato," or "the Cat," for the way he stealthily stalks and overcomes opponents. It may not be a household moniker like the others, but it certainly fits him and his recent play to a tee. He's quickly but quietly made a name for himself on the Champions Tour, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 after winning the JELD-WEN Tradition.

How's this for mind-boggling percentages? Romero has only played 21 events on the Champions Tour yet boasts some pretty impressive stats, like finishing in the top 25 in nearly 86 percent of his starts. As for top-10 finishes, he's earned one a whopping 11 times, or in just over half of his attempts. In 2007 alone, he's placed in the top 10 in half of his starts, including a tie for third at the ACE Group Classic, and is 21st in Charles Schwab Cup points.

Major tournaments on the Champions Tour, like the test he faces this week at the Senior PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, seem to bring out the best in the Argentinean as well. He's won the JELD-WEN Tradition already and placed second in the Senior British Open twice.

He's gotten a good start this week towards adding a Senior PGA Championship trophy to the mantle, shooting 68 in the first round at the first of the Tour's five majors. And to think, Romero would have had a 67 if not for a costly bogey on the final hole when he missed a foot-and-a-half putt for par.

"I played good today. I think I made no mistakes except on the last hole," said Romero. "It's very good for me to start like this because normally I'm just a bad starter in all the tournaments and then I get better and better, but it's tough to do. But 4-under is perfect."

Better than perfect, actually, since he exceeded he and caddie Alejandro Malina's expectations. Five birdies on the card -- including three on a tough back nine, which was made even harder since the wind picked up during his round -- and just one bogey pleased the 52-year-old.

"I think 68 is a fantastic round. This morning I talked with my caddie and said, 'What score would you like for today?' My caddie said, '71, that's perfect.' But I made 68. It's much better."

Romero typically strikes the ball and keeps it low, so he wasn't forced to change his swing due to the gusty winds that are strong enough to shake tents and send sand scattering high into the air. Though the wind presented a different challenge on each hole and caused him some problems with concentration, Romero has enough experience playing on the European Tour and in South America to counteract the difficulties.

"I think normally where we live in Argentina, the wind is like this all the time. Also, I'm playing in Europe for 22 years and this is just like England, the English and Scottish courses. I feel very comfortable with this wind. I've played a lot of times in this wind," said Romero, who won eight times on the European Tour and 85 tournaments on the South American Tour.

Seven of those South American Tour wins came in the Argentine PGA Championship, but he's yet to earn one in the United States.

"It's a dream. To win this PGA, for me, I think it's one of the more important things in my life to win a PGA in America. I will try hard. I'm concentrating this week, I'm trying my best because it's very, very important for my career to win the PGA," said Romero.

And, if his past record on the Champions Tour gives any indication, El Gato could sneak up on the competition to steal that first PGA title in the U.S. this weekend.

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