BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Darren Clarke took the lead Thursday in the Regions Tradition, opening with a 6-under 66 in the first of five PGA Tour Champions majors.
The 2011 British Open champion from Northern Ireland had a one-stroke lead over Stephen Ames and Jerry Kelly at Greystone Golf & Country Club.
“Majors are majors, it doesn’t make any difference which tour they’re on,” Clarke said. “You want to play well. You ask Tiger Woods, you ask Rory McIlroy, you ask Dustin (Johnson), you ask Mr. (Jack) Nicklaus, you ask anybody, majors are what they all want, and it’s the same out here.
“We all want them, too. There’s a little bit of added excitement, four-round tournament. I think it’s the first tournament I’ve walked since Pebble Beach last year, so my legs are a little bit sore.”
He won his lone senior titles in consecutive starts in early November in Florida and late January in Hawaii.
Clarke started on the 10th hole with back to back birdies and added three straight birdies before making the turn. He added birdies on Nos. 2 and 7 and dropped a stroke on the par-4 eighth.
Steve Stricker, the 2019 winner, was among three players two shots back at 68. The tournament was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Alex Cejka and Mike Weir, who’s coming off a win at the Insperity Invitational, also opened with 68s. World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els was among a group of seven players at 69.
Ames birdied No. 18 after making four bogeys over the first six holes, with a bogey mixed in.
Kelly, who won the Senior Players Championship last August, had five birdies and a bogey on his final nine holes after starting on No. 10. He tied for fifth at the rain-shortened Insperity Invitational.
“You know, coming into this week, there was nothing I would rather do than win two majors in a row,” said Kelly, Stricker’s Madison, Wisconsin, neighbor. “It just gives you that extra motivation. I’m not overly confident by any means because I haven’t been playing that great, but it’s building. I can feel it building. To do this in the first round of our first major, it feels good.”
Kevin Sutherland, who came in ranked No. 2 in the Charles Schwab Cup standings, dropped out of the field before the first round with a back injury.