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Setting the pace

George Forster of Blue Bell, Pa., and Craig Stevens of Dallas, Ga., went separate routes to post 72s Thursday on a difficult Harbor Shores layout to lead a contingent of 43 PGA Club Professionals after the first round of play.

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George Forster had five bogeys and three birdies in the first round of his sixth Senior PGA Championship appearance. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – George Forster of Blue Bell, Pa., and Craig Stevens of Dallas, Ga., went separate routes to post respective 1-over-par 72s Thursday on a difficult Harbor Shores layout to lead a contingent of 43 PGA club professionals in the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.

Forster, 56, a PGA head professional at Radnor Valley Country Club in Villanova, Pa., had five bogeys and three birdies in his sixth Championship appearance in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf.

“The conditions were very difficult, the wind is probably a three-club wind,” said Forster, who has yet to make the cut in a Senior PGA Championship. “I scrambled well at the end, but I hit a lot of good shots, made three birdies, and hung in there as well as possible.

Stevens, 50, started 5-over-par through six holes in his Championship debut, including a triple-bogey 7 on the sixth hole. The PGA teaching professional at Brookstone Golf and Country Club in Acton, Ga., Stevens rebounded with birdies at 8, 10, 12 and 15 for a closing 32, the day’s best back-nine effort.

“I played really solid today,” said Stevens. “I had one bad hole on No. 6, a triple bogey. So, I was 5-over-par after 6 and I brought it back to 1-over. I had a real solid round of golf after that. This is a south wind and I think that the north wind gives most of the players, I think, the hardest time. At least it does for me. The south wind, it crosses on a few holes but it is to my advantage and I like it. But we hope it keeps blowing and let them all have fun out there.”

Two-time Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., the Low Club Professional in the 2011 Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, began play on the 10th hole. He saw his chances for a strong finish dissolve by closing 5-over-par on his final three holes. He bogeyed the seventh, made a triple bogey-7 on the eighth and bogeyed the ninth, his final hole of the day.

The field will be trimmed to the low 70 scorers and ties Friday.