Gil Morgan, one of the top two golfers on the Senior PGA Tour, didn't even decide until a week ago that he was going to play in the Utah Showdown Classic.
"It was kind of a last-minute decision to play," he said.Tournament officials are thrilled Morgan decided to play this week, but his fellow pros aren't exactly doing cartwheels after he fired an opening-round 66 to grab a share of the lead with Bob Duval, who is better known as the father of PGA Tour star David Duval.
Morgan and Duval both took advantage of hot finishes on the windy day at Park Meadows Country Club as Morgan finished with four consecutive birdies, while Duval birdied three of the last four holes.
That gives the pair a two-shot lead over Jerry McGee and John Jacobs, who also both finished strong to shoot 68. Another stroke back at 69 are three golfers, Tom Wargo, Terry Dill and Mike McCullough.
Defending champion Dave Stockton didn't have a great day, but he is within striking distance in a group of 13 golfers at 2-under 70.
Two of the most popular players in the tournament - Heber's Bruce Summerhays and Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench - had tough opening days, finishing deep in the pack with 78s.
If not for Hale Irwin, Morgan would be the pre-eminent golfer on the Senior Tour right now. He already has won five tournaments this year and more than $1.3 million. He had planned to take this week off, but after some pep talks from the likes of Stockton and a look at the weather report, he opted for Utah.
"I asked several people about it and they said it was real pretty here . . . plus it was 107 in Oklahoma (where his home is)," said Morgan.
Morgan had played in Utah just once before, in the 1984 Shootout at Jeremy Ranch as the partner of Miller Barber when it was a best-ball event. He decided to bring his wife and two daughters to Park City for a vacation and partly as a favor to tournament chairman Bryan Naugle.
"I heard the tournament needed some help and thought it would be a good idea to play," he said. "It's nice to have the opportunity to come and play here."
It took a while for Morgan to get going as he had just two birdies on the first 14 holes, at No. 1 and No. 8.
Then just as the wind died down for a short time, he went wild, making a birdie from 5 feet at No. 15, hitting a wedge within 3 feet at No. 16, chipping within a foot at No. 17 and then draining a 30-foot downhill putt at the final hole.
Duval, playing in one of the later groups of the day, noticed Morgan's 6-under score on the board and slowly worked his way toward it. "It took me a long time to catch him," he said.
A 50-foot eagle at No. 8 put him to 3-under and after a few par saves, he birdied No. 15 with a two-putt, a tap-in at No. 17 and then a 3-footer at No. 18 when hit his wedge from 125 yards just behind the hole.
Duval was excited to have his son following him for the first time this year and joked, "I'm going to see if he wants to quit his tour and follow me around."
McGee, who has struggled all year, ranking just 56th on the money list, was thrilled with his best round of the year.
"They still have these things, huh?" he quipped as he was led into the interview room.
McGee was atop the leaderboard at 3-under-par when he found the water at 14 and made a double bogey. But he came back with three consecutive birdies at the next three holes to get back to 4-under for the day and nearly dropped a 25-foot birdie at No. 18.
"I was bound and determined I wasn't going to let anything bother me (after 14) and I played those next three holes as well as you can play," he said.
Jacobs had the roller-coaster round of the day, going to 3-under after nine holes, then bogeying three of the next five holes before finishing birdie-par-eagle-birdie.
"It looked like I was going to be 72 and depressed, but I got a 68 and now I'm happy," said Jacobs, who led this tournament two years ago for two rounds.
Morgan, Duval and McGee tee off in the final group today at 12:40 p.m., while Jacobs, Wargo and Dill go off at 12:30 p.m.
Summerhays goes off early, at 9 a.m., a group ahead of Bench at 9:10 a.m.
Utah Showdown leaderboard
Gil Morgan 66
Bob Duval 66
Jerry McGee 68
John Jacobs 68
Tom Wargo 69
Terry Dill 69
Mike McCullough 69