Originally created 07/13/01

Five tied for lead in final senior major



DEARBORN, Mich. -- Tom Watson hasn't really practiced in over two months.

Larry Nelson has hit so many golf balls lately that he doesn't know if he's coming or going.

Both overcame those obstacles Thursday to be in a group of five - along with defending champion Ray Floyd, Allen Doyle and Ed Dougherty - leading the Senior Players Championship after the first round at the TPC of Michigan. It's the most players to share an opening-round lead at the Senior Players since six were tied for first in 1989.

This is the fourth and final major championship of the year on the Senior PGA Tour.

Watson was told by his doctor to stop playing and practicing for 8-to-10 weeks when a torn muscle was discovered in his right elbow on May 1.

His compromise was to stay away from the driving range while sneaking in time to work on chipping and putting as he continued to compete in tournaments.

The extra work with his putter may have helped him make five birdie putts from 12 feet or longer Thursday.

"I putted like Dave Stockton," Watson said. "I made just about every putt out there. That's the best I've done in a long, long time. It was good to have it back. ... I turned a 71 into a 67 with great putting."

The low score helped ease the pain in Watson's elbow.

"It feels a heck of a lot better," he said.

Although Watson hasn't used an iron or a driver in a practice session in over two months, he has played in five senior tour events, which included a win at the Senior PGA Championship on May 27.

Nelson won last week's Charity Classic in Ada, Mich., and the Boston Classic three weeks ago. In between those wins, he tied for seventh at the U.S. Senior Open.

"I'm tired mentally," Nelson said, "and a little tired physically too. I have a lot of confidence in my game, but I'm not hitting as well as I did at Boston or last week. Hopefully, that will change."

As fatigued as Nelson was, he was glad he didn't rest last week where Egypt Valley's greens reminded him of those he's putting on this week. Nelson took advantage of that familiarity with birdie putts from 40, 35, 25 and 20 feet.

"It's one of those days where you could actually see the line," Nelson said.

Dougherty had a chance to be alone in first, but he bogeyed the par-4 18th after his approach shot landed in a bunker.

"I pulled a 9-iron just left," Dougherty said, "it hit the hill and rolled down into the bunker. I had 12-footer for par and I just overread it."

Jay Sigel was alone at 68. Isao Aoki, who is playing in his 1,000th professional tournament, and Senior Open champion Bruce Fleisher were among the group of five at 3 under.

Aoki said he doesn't plan to retire any time soon.

"I'm going to play until I die," Aoki joked through an interpreter.

Since 1994, an average score of 16.7 under has won the Senior Players. Floyd won it last year with a 15-under 273 after Irwin and Gil Morgan won it in consecutive years at 21 under.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed course was made more difficult this year. Bunkers were added to three holes and smaller landing areas were created on six others.

Floyd was glad they made the course tougher.

"It's a major championship," Floyd said, "and the golf course reflected that."