Kevin Sutherland shot an opening-round 64 Thursday to finish two strokes in front of a Buick Classic field that lost Ernie Els to a bad back, making it unclear whether Els will be able to defend his U.S. Open championship next week at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
A back spasm that Els said hit him Wednesday night forced his withdrawal as he played his ninth hole Thursday on the Westchester Country Club course in Harrison, N.Y.
"Obviously next week is a day-to-day thing at this point," Els said after pulling out in the opening round of a tournament he had won two straight times. "I certainly hope I can take care of this soon, though."
Even if Els was healthy, he would have been hard-pressed to match shots with Sutherland, especially during a sensational back nine when Sutherland shot a six-under 29.
Sutherland tied the record for lowest nine-hole score at Westchester shared by Willie Wood (1990) and Kirk Triplett (1982).
At seven under, Sutherland led Steve Lowery, Paul Goydos, Bob Tway and J.P. Hayes by two shots.
Almost all of the low scorers played in the morning. A swirling, chilly wind pushed the scores of most afternoon starters above par.
An exception was Goydos, whose round was highlighted by an eagle-two on the par-four, 326-yard seventh hole. His wedge shot from 108 yards nicked the flag, landed five feet past the pin and spun backward into the hole.
Though trainers worked on his back before he played Thursday morning, Els said he was "still hurting on the first hole."
"I tried to make it through but I just couldn't do it."
Before Els left the course, Love gave him the name of Tom Boers, a Columbus, Ga., therapist who specializes in treating professional golfers and also has worked on Couples, Phil Mickelson and Brad Faxon.
In a statement released through the PGA Tour, Els said he might visit Boers' Hugston Clinic or fly to his home in Orlando, Fla., and seek treatment there.
Donna Andrews, who has finished second in the last three LPGA Tour events, birdied 10 of the first 13 holes before settling for an eight-under 64 and a two-stroke lead in the Oldsmobile Classic at East Lansing, Mich.
Val Skinner and Australian Karrie Webb each shot 66 and Dina Ammaccapane, Dottie Pepper, Wendy Ward, Lisa Walters and Jenny Lidback had 67s.
Defending champion Pat Hurst was four back at 68.
Andrews, 31, the LPGA money leader, birdied five straight holes on the front nine of the Walnut Hills Country Club course.
"I don't think I was alone the first 13 holes; someone upstairs was playing those holes with me," Andrews said.
"It seemed like every time I stood over the ball it went in. We were laughing out there because it seemed like I couldn't miss. We probably were carrying on too much, because I lost focus."
Her string of birdies was followed by consecutive bogeys on Nos. 14 and 15, both par fives.
For his first three years on the PGA Senior Tour, friends would tell John Jacobs he'd win eventually, but in his heart he'd begun to wonder.
"When you haven't won it becomes a mental pressure," said Jacobs, who got his first PGA tour victory of any kind in 30 years as a professional last weekend at the Nationwide Championship in Atlanta.
"I feel like a monkey's off my back," he said after a practice round for the BellSouth Classic at Springhouse Golf Club in Nashville.
Emlyn Aubrey, attempting to play his way back to the PGA Tour, shot a six-under 66 for a share of the first-round lead in the Nike Cleveland Open.
Dave Wedzik, Jimmy Green and John Maginnes also opened with 66s.