Schroeder Gets Straightened Out With a 66

Times Staff Writer

John Schroeder said his alignment feels off when he gets over putts and that it takes a leap of faith to stroke each one, but he can't question the results.

Schroeder one-putted his final six holes Friday during the first round of the Champions Tour SBC Classic at Valencia Country Club, made eight birdies and shot six-under-par 66 to finish a shot behind leader Gil Morgan.

Tom Purtzer, who had a hole in one, and James Mason shot 67. Sammy Rachels and Allen Doyle were at 69.

Schroeder said he has been missing putts to the right since he joined what is now called the Champions Tour in 1996. He recently had his alignment checked with a laser, which showed a flaw.

Now he marks the top of his ball with a straight line and points the line where he wants his putts to start before getting over the ball.

"It looks like it's dead left," Schroeder said. "It's hard sometimes, but you just have to trust it. It's been night and day since I switched. My putts are going in the middle of the hole. Before, even when I made them, they were going in the sides."

Schroeder, a former NBC announcer and the son of former Wimbledon champion Ted Schroeder, needed only 26 putts in his best round since October 2001. Even better, he did it despite a stomach virus he contracted while playing last week in Mexico.

"I haven't had a full meal since Sunday," Schroeder said.

Morgan and Purtzer are familiar names on the leaderboard at Valencia. Playing together last year, each finished one shot out of a playoff. In a thrilling finish, Purtzer got up and down from a sand trap for birdie on the 18th hole and Morgan nearly holed a three-wood shot for double eagle, then tapped in for eagle on the same hole.

They were tied for the lead when they finished but Tom Kite and Tom Watson, playing in a group behind, each birdied the last and Morgan and Purtzer were eliminated. Kite eventually won the playoff.

"It's always good to come back to a golf course that you've had a little bit of success on," Purtzer said.

Kite had a 74 Friday, and Hale Irwin opened with a 73.

Morgan had a quick start and a big finish. He made a 50-foot eagle putt on the first hole, then made a birdie on the third to go three under through three. On the par-five 18th, he drove into a bunker, then blasted out with a seven-wood. The shot went only 40 yards and left him 230 yards out. He hit a three-wood to within four feet and made the putt for birdie.

"It was like ... last year," Morgan said of the three-wood shot.

The forecast for today calls for heavy rain, so the first tee times have been moved from 10:30 to 7:30 a.m., allowing extra time to complete the round in case of delays. The final groups go off at 9:18 a.m.

Morgan said the possibility of a weather delay was at the front of his mind Friday when he teed off.

"If you put a good number on the board, that might help you if there happened to be a delay or a cancellation," Morgan said

Purtzer, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, is seeking his first Champions Tour victory. He helped his caused by acing the 194-yard 16th hole with a six-iron. The shot vaulted him from three under to five under.

"I think I'm very capable of winning, but it's been a long time," said Purtzer, who last won as a professional in the 1991 NEC World Series of Golf. "You kind of always wonder if the last one you've ever won is going to be it. I don't think that, but you never know.... You don't ever want to tell yourself that you're done winning."

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