Originally created 09/13/03

Smyth, two others lead Constellation Classic

HUNT VALLEY, Md. -- Des Smyth beat the rain and bucked a trend in the opening round of the Constellation Energy Classic.

Smyth had five birdies on the back nine and shot a 5-under 67 Friday to share the lead of the Champions Tour event with Larry Nelson and Jay Sigel.

Smyth teed off as part of the second threesome and was in the clubhouse well before a persistent rain shower played havoc with the majority of the field.

Sigel and Nelson got caught in the bad weather, but only for the final few holes. Sigel fell back into a tie for the lead with a bogey on 18, while Nelson, who had an eagle and four birdies, bogeyed 17.

The leaders ended the day two shots in front of Gary McCord and Ed Fiori.

Only 15 of the 81 golfers broke par. Defending champion J.C. Snead shot a 75, and Jim Thorpe's run of 18 straight rounds of par or better ended with a 1-over 73.

Smyth was playing in a group that included nine-time Ryder Cup pro Sam Torrance, whose debut on the Champions Tour was marred by a double-bogey 7 on the fifth hole.

"He's obviously not sharp yet. He needs more golf," Smyth said. "But he certainly is booming the ball."

Smyth has finished in the top 15 in each of his last six tournaments, and this was the eighth straight event in which he opened at par or better. But the Irishman has never led after the first round.

"I'm a better finisher than I am a starter," he said. "After nine holes I was thinking, 'Here we go again.' That's why I'm really happy with my back nine."

Smyth made his move with birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 12. He made a 15-foot putt on 10, a 10-footer on 11 and a 25-footer on 12 after pushing his tee shot into the trees.

"That was really the turning point for me," he said.

Smyth added a birdie on 16 and concluded the round with a 12-foot birdie putt.

"It was a beautiful finish," said Smyth, who's now gone 254 straight holes without a three-putt.

Smyth, a veteran of the European Tour, is playing in his 21st event since joining the Champions Tour in February. He debuted with a second-place finish in the ACE Group Classic, took third in the Long Island Classic last month and is on a run of 19 straight rounds of par or better.

"I've played well all year," he said. "The only thing I haven't done is won."

Unlike Smyth, Nelson got off to a brilliant start. He birdied No. 2, parred 3 and eagled No. 4, holing out with a 9-iron from 133 yards. He added a birdie on 5 to go 4 under, then played steady golf until reaching 17, when he put his approach in the left rough and missed a 15-foot putt.

"I'd like to try and play one round this year without a bogey," he said, disgustedly.

Sigel blamed the wet conditions for his bogey on 18, when he hit a wedge into the back bunker and two-putted from 50 feet.

"I got a little water on the ball," he said. "It was a little chilly, and the wind was blowing. I would have much preferred playing under warmer conditions, although, all in all it was a solid round."

McCord had a wacky round that included seven birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. Because he's been splitting time this year playing golf and announcing the sport, his game has been very inconsistent.

"The schedule has not been very good for me, and I've played accordingly," McCord said. "I've played awful."

Asked if he could win the tournament, McCord replied, "I would be shocked."


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