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Canterbury no pushover in first round of 70th Senior PGA Championship

Scott Hoch and Tom Purtzer set the pace Thursday at the 70th Senior PGA Championship with 66s, but few others managed to solve Canterbury's hilly layout on a breezy day. In fact, only 10 of the 156 players in the field managed to break par.

By Craig Dolch, Special to PGA.com

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Scott Hoch is trying to win the first major championship of his 30-year professional career. But, like most sports fans in the Cleveland area, his mind also has been tuned into another sport this week.

Hoch, who lives in Orlando, was feeling pretty good after watching his hometown Magic rally for a 107-106 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night in the NBA playoffs. He was feeling even better Thursday when he was six-under through 16 holes to take an early three-shot lead in the 70th Senior PGA Championship -- until he bogeyed his final two holes, that is.

"I was in a good frame of mind after last night's basketball game," Hoch said. "After 16, I felt like the Magic did, and then after 18 I felt like the Cavaliers did.

Hoch settled for a four-under 66 at Canterbury Golf Club -- tying the low competitive round here -- to share the first-round lead with Tom Purtzer.

Hoch and Purtzer had a two-shot lead over the Champion Tour's reigning Player of the Year Bernhard Langer (68) and they were three in front of Hall of Famer Tom Kite (69), former Masters champion Larry Mize (69), Dana Quigley (69), John Morse (69), Joey Sindelar (69), John Morse (69) and Gary Hallberg (69). Only 10 of the 156 players in the field broke par of 70 at Canterbury, with just three of those sub-par scores coming in the afternoon.

"I wouldn't say it was an easy 66, but I played very well until the last two holes," said Hoch, who tied for third in last year's Senior PGA at Oak Hill. "Other than a 12-footer, the longest par putt I made was from 2 feet."

Hoch, who won 11 times on the PGA Tour and three times on the Champions Tour, got off to a fast start Thursday with birdies on the first two holes and another birdie at the sixth. He parred the next six holes before birdies at the 13th, 14th and 16th holes moved him three shots ahead at six-under.

But Hoch's approach at the 227-yard, par-3 17th landed in a green-side bunker and he also missed the green at the closing hole, resulting in bogeys that took some luster off his round.

"I made some bad decisions, and they cost me," said Hoch, who has just one top-10 finish in seven events this year on the Champions Tour because of a chronic wrist injury, "But I hit a lot of good shots out there."

Purtzer arrived at his 66 in different fashion, with birdies on two of his last five holes. Purtzer has long been known for possessing one of the game's most rhythmic swings, but he needed just 25 putts in the first round, the fewest in the field.

"I'm not known as one of the better putters out here, but I had a good putting round today," said Purtzer, whose ranked 76th in putting this year with 31.1. "The biggest putt was when I made an 8-footer on the first hole that had a bunch of break. That kind of relaxed me."

Purtzer said he benefited greatly from a practice round with defending champion Jay Haas, when Haas' caddy, Tom Lamb, a longtime looper at Canterbury, gave him plenty local knowledge.

"By the end of the round, Jay was saying, 'Hey, hey, hey ... you're my caddie,'" Purtzer said with a smile. "Tommy probably helped me on every hole."

Langer had his usual tidy round, making just one bogey while missing only four fairways and five greens. His lone bogey came at the par-4 12th when his tee shot landed in deep rough and he had to chip out sideways.

Langer has two wins in nine starts this year and his worst finish in a 54-hole event has been a tie for 13th. His presence on the leader board has become an expected sight, even though he said he didn't arrive at Canterbury thinking he was the player to beat.

"I would like to think I'm one of the players to beat," said Langer, whose son Stefan is his full-time caddie. "I was one of the best players on the Champions Tour last year and I've had a really good start this year. But there are a lot of great champions playing in this event. It's never easy to win."

Nor is it easy to avoid mistakes at Canterbury, with its quirky, hilly fairways and greens that are faster than Lanny Wadkins' swing. The scoring average for the first round was 74.2 -- more than four shots over par.

"I can promise you, the rough we have here is three times as thick as it is this week in Dallas (at the PGA Tour's HP Byron Nelson Classic)," said Dave Stockton, who bogeyed his last two holes for a 70. "But I think it's a very fair setup."

Kite could have joined Langer at 68, but he missed a 2-foot par putt at his last hole that left him muttering to himself as he walked to the scoring tent. Yet Kite has been around long enough to know anything in red figures is a good start at a major.

Four-time Senior PGA champion Hale Irwin headlined a large group at 70 that included former PGA champions Jeff Sluman and Stockton and ex-Senior PGA champions John Jacobs and Denis Watson. Also at 70 are Ross Drummond, Dan Forsman, Tim Simpson, Sam Torrance, Jay Don Blake, Russ Cochran and Butch Sheehan, who was low PGA club professional after the first round.

Haas was at 71, along with former PGA champion Hal Sutton, Bruce Fleisher, Tom Jenkins, Fred Funk, Gil Morgan, Wayne Grady, Ian Woosnam and PGA club professionals James Blair, Robert Gibbons, John Aubrey and Chris Starkjohann.

Many of the top names struggled: Tom Watson (72), Greg Norman (73), Ben Crenshaw (73), John Cook (73), Loren Roberts (73), Jerry Pate (73), Nick Price (74), Bob Tway (75), Mark O'Meara (76) and Tom Lehman (75), who arrived at Canterbury on Wednesday after attending his daughter's high-school graduation in Arizona on Tuesday night.

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