PORT ST. LUCIE – James Mason went almost as low as the temperatures Thursday, shooting a 6-under 66 on a day that started with a wind chill in the 30s to take a 3-shot lead in the 65-and-older division of the Quarter Century Championship at PGA Golf Club.
Mason was 4-under after six holes on the Ryder Course and kept his round together in the blustery conditions to seize control in the first event of the PGA Winter Championships. Mason, a Dillard, Ga., resident who leads by three over Denny Ford, made only one bogey to go with five birdies and an eagle.
“I would have been happy with anything under par,” said Mason, who won an event on the PGA Tour Champions in 2002. “I haven’t played in weather colder than this too many times, but I got off to a good start and didn’t make any stupid mistakes like I usually do.”
In the 50-65 division, Danny Elkins of Roswell, Ga., and Michael Zaremba of Pueblo West, Colo., shot 1-under 71s on the Wanamaker Course to share the lead. Elkins had six birdies, three bogeys and an eagle.
“I hit it close for birdies on the third and fourth holes, and then I four-putted the fifth hole from 40 feet without hitting a bad putt. That’s the kind of day it was,” said Elkins, who runs the Georgia Golf Center.
Zaremba had a steadier round, with three birdies against two bogeys. Former Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., Mark Mielke of Jupiter and Fran Marrello of Plymouth, Ct., are tied for third place with 72s.
“It was brutal,” Skinner said. “I’m just glad it wasn’t raining or snowing. The rest of it was very hard.”
Mielke was named the 2017 South Florida PGA Senior Player of the Year. His round included an unlikely eagle on the par-4 ninth hole.
“I hit a 9-iron above the ridge and we knew it was going to roll back,” Mielke said. “When we got to the green, we saw we were missing a ball. J.C. Anderson said check the hole and, sure enough, it was in the hole.”
Mason, the PGA Teaching Professional at The Orchard Golf and Country Club in Clarkesville, Ga., birdied the second and third holes and eagled the par-5 sixth when he hit a hybrid to 8 feet. Mason won the 2013 PGA Senior Stroke Play Championship.
“The conditions were extremely difficult, but you still have to play the golf course,” Mason said. “You have to try and attack the par-5s and hold on when you can.”
Ford, from Indianapolis, had four birdies and a bogey. Jim Sheeran of Rye, N.H., is alone in third with a 71 despite making a 7 on the par-5 13th hole. The final round is Friday.
The PGA Winter Championships, conducted by the PGA of America, are presented by Golf Advisor and PrimeSport.