Stockton Still Looks Like Ace of Seniors : Golf: His hole in one at Ojai leads to 63, one ahead of Devlin, Eichelberger and Charles.


Bruce Devlin is in his ninth unsuccessful year on the Senior PGA Tour. He was on the verge of quitting. Some good advice has turned his game around.

In fact, until Dave Stockton made a hole in one on No. 17 Friday at the Ojai Valley Inn, Devlin's six-under-par 64 was good enough to lead the $750,000 FHP Health Care Classic.

Stockton, money leader on the senior tour the last two years, was five under par on the final five holes on the 6,190-yard, par-70 layout and finished the first round with a 63.

Later, Dave Eichelberger and Bob Charles also had 64s on a course that held up well after more than an inch of rain the night before.

The only surprise is Devlin. He joined the tour in 1987, after winning eight times on the regular tour. He has never finished better than 26th on the money list and has never won. It seemed likely that his career might be over after he suffered a broken ankle in a golf cart accident last June.

"I had plenty of time to think about a wasted career," Devlin said after shooting one of his best competitive rounds. "In Florida, golf teacher Andy O'Brien took one look at my horrible swing, gave me two pieces of advice--and suddenly I can play golf again.

"Basically, he had me widen my stance and straighten up. I'm hitting the ball 30 yards farther and straight. My irons are going at the target. The first three tournaments showed me I could still play, but the scores didn't prove it. Today I dropped some putts and scored well."

Devlin birdied six consecutive holes, starting at No. 8, and was seven under after 13. The string ended on the 177-yard 14th when he buried a six-iron shot in a trap, barely got out and got a double bogey. But he also made three 30-foot birdie putts and holed a 60-foot chip for another birdie.

Stockton is the man to beat. He sets goals and reaches them. His first was to win a senior tournament. He did it as a rookie in 1992. The next goal was to be the top player. He did that in 1993, winning five events and $1,175,000. Last year his goal was to prove it was no fluke. Again he did it, winning $1.4 million.

"Each year I started slowly," Stockton said after getting his 16th hole in one. "I made up my mind to get off to a fast start. It looks like I have this goal in sight too."

He won the Suncoast two weeks ago in Florida. And here he is out in front again.

"I owe the hole in one to my caddie (Todd Newcomb). I was going to use a five-iron. He said I could get there with a six. The ball hit 10 feet in front of the pin and rolled into the cup. Not only does it cut two shots off your score, it gives you a great feeling."

Stockton oozes confidence. He doesn't merely think he's the best putter on the tour--he knows it.

His score could have been better. He missed putts of 15, 10 and seven feet for birdies on the first three holes, another 10-footer on No. 9 and a couple of eight-footers on the back nine. Those are putts he expects to make.

"I am playing so well, I can't believe it," he said. "I missed only one fairway and one green. That was important because after the rain I noticed guys having trouble out of the high grass."

Defending champion Jay Sigel birdied three of the first four holes but finished at 67, four shots back.

Tour rookie Robert Landers, having to learn a new course each week, posted a one-over 71.

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