CONOVER, N.C. — Defending champion R.W. Eaks shot an 11-under 61 on Friday in the Greater Hickory Classic, missing a chance for the first 59 in Champions Tour history when he parred the final three holes.

"I hit my first ball down the fairway, and thought, 'You know what? This is going to be a great day,"' said Eaks, three strokes ahead of second-place Tom Jenkins. "Everything I did seemed to turn out good."

Not quite everything. After making nine birdies and an eagle to reach 11 under after 15 holes, the 56-year-old Eaks had good birdie chances on the final two holes, but missed a 5-foot putt on No. 16, a 13-footer on 17 and a 10-footer on 18.

The 61 — the best score this year on Champions Tour — left him a stroke short of tying the record on the 50-and-over circuit.

"I really didn't start thinking about (the record) until I hit my birdie putt on 15," said Eaks, who also missed a 3 1/2-foot birdie putt on No. 11. "That's when I knew I had a chance. I have no complaints about this day at all.

"I'll think about all the positive stuff from today, but I know that there's no way I'll go out and do the same thing tomorrow."

Taking advantage of rain-softened greens on the Robert Trent Jones-designed Rock Barn Golf and Spa course, Eaks was 7 under on the front nine, with five birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole.

Eaks got to 11 under with birdies on four of the first five holes on the back nine, including three in row on Nos. 13-15.

Last year, Eaks held off Jay Haas and Rod Spittle by two strokes. Eaks won the 3M Championship this year for his third career Champions Tour title.

Jenkins, a seven-time winner on the Champions Tour whose last win came in the 2006 SAS Championship in Cary, N.C., had a bogey-free 64.

"I wasn't paying much attention to (Eaks), but I knew he had a good round going," Jenkins said. "I didn't know what was going to happen ... but I started hitting some really good drives on the practice tee. I felt a good round coming."

Fred Funk opened with a 65, and Senior British Open winner Bruce Vaughan, Tom Purtzer, Tom Kite, Dan Forsman and Tom McKnight shot 66s.

Jay Haas, the 2005 winner, had a 68. Jeff Sluman, coming off a victory Aug. 31 in the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, opened with a 72.

MERCEDES BENZ CHAMPIONSHIP: At Pulheim, Germany, Robert Karlsson of Sweden took a one-stroke lead in the Mercedes Benz Championship after shooting a 3-under 69 in the second round on Friday.

Karlsson had three birdies on the front nine and finished at 8-under 136. First-round co-leader Jean Francois Lucquin of France was one back after a 71.

"It is a much better feeling to slide into next week knowing that I can play well," said Karlsson, one of four Europeans using the tournament to warm up for next week's Ryder Cup at Valhalla in Kentucky.

Defending Mercedes champion Soren Hansen of Denmark, also on Europe's team, had 10 birdies in a 67 that had him in fifth place four strokes off the pace. Teammates Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain (73) and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland (73) were both nine shots back.

Peter Hanson of Sweden (69) was third at 138 and Richard Finch of England (73), the other first-round leader, was another shot behind in fourth.

Hansen, attempting to become the first player to retain the Mercedes title, had birdies on his first five holes and six out of his first seven. He shared fifth with Marcel Siem of Germany (68) at 140.

American John Daly was eight shots back after a 71.

Patchy fog delayed the beginning of the round by 30 minutes and the players had to battle with pouring rain throughout the morning and early afternoon.

BELL MICRO LPGA CLASSIC: At Mobile, Ala., Cristie Kerr moved into position for her second straight LPGA Tour victory, shooting a 6-under 66 in wind gusting to 35 mph to take a two-stroke lead over Angela Stanford in the Bell Micro LPGA Classic.

Kerr, the 2006 U.S. Women's Open champion coming off a playoff victory Aug. 24 in the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., had a 9-under 135 total on The Crossing course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's Magnolia Grove complex.

Stanford had a 67. Michelle Ellis was 6 under after a 70, and Reilley Rankin followed at 5 under after a 69.