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Steven Alker, Bob Estes share the lead of the first round of the PGA Senior Championship at 64

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — On a day when birds were flying around Harbor Shores in the first round of the PGA Senior Championship, Steven Alker took flight with an eagle Friday.

The 50-year-old New Zealander, who has already won twice and leads the PGA Tour champions’ money list with nearly $1.2 million, began his round with a 25-foot downhill eagle putt on the 10th hole. 539-yard par-5 after a 240-yard 5-wood approach. He then finished his afternoon round with his sixth birdie of the day to shoot a seven-under 64, which was tied at the end of the day by Bob Estes. , 56 years old.

Alker and Estes were a stroke ahead of Paul Claxton, a club pro from Georgia, and 52-year-old Canadian southpaw Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion after the first round on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course on Lake Michigan. , the site of four previous senior PGAs since 2012.

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“I’m playing with good freedom at the moment,” said Alker, who didn’t seem at all fazed by afternoon play with World Golf Hall of Famers Ernie Els and Bernhard Langer, who both had below-average rounds. 67-68 “A little nervous on the first tee, but I’m making birdies and being aggressive, which we could be today because the greens were a little softer and the course had softened up. I was there for the taking.”

Estes took his share, recording seven birdies without a bogey, five of them after his turn on the Harbor Shores first nine. He birdied numbers 1, 3, 5, 6 and 9 on his way to the clubhouse.

“I love a clean card,” said Estes, whose only top-10 finish this season was a solo fourth at the Rapiscan Systems Classic, which Alker won on April 3. “I made some good saves on both sides.”

Like the previous four PGA Senior Championships played at Harbor Shores, this season’s second Major for the 50+ crowd is shaping up to be a low-scoring affair. A total of 56 golfers on the 156-player course shot rounds of one under 70 or higher on a cloudy day with temperatures in the 70s after an overnight rain softened the course. More rain and cooler temperatures are expected on Friday.

Claxton, 54, one of 39 club pros at the Richmond Hill, Ga., course, started with birdies on his first three holes and added two more for a 32 on the first nine and then added two more birdies on the last. nine. .

“I had a great front nine,” said Claxton, who once played on the Nationwide Tour with Alker. “I made a lot of good shots and kept the ball in play, and I had a chip-in [at No. 7]. A lot of good things happened early.”

Weir, who has earned $131,543 this season, perked up with a finish of 67 at the season’s first senior major, Regions Tradition, where he finished 40th. The good vibes continued Thursday as Weir started with a birdie on the par-5 10 and added three more birdies on the back nine and then made up for two bogeys with four birdies up front.

“I started to find something there [at the Tradition] with my short game, particularly putting, and I carried it forward today,” Weir said.

Duffy Waldorf and Robert Karlsson had 66 in the afternoon and there were 10 players in 67, led by Spaniard Miguel Ángel Jiménez, number 2 behind Alker on the money list, Els and Chris DiMarco, who was playing Harbor Shores for the first time. but he does well in tournament golf in southwest Michigan. He won the 1988 Western Amateur as a 19-year-old Florida Gator at nearby Point O’Woods Golf & Country Club in Millburg.

“It’s hard to remember that much … obviously I have great memories from there,” said DiMarco, whose round featured six birdies, including five in a six-hole stretch that started on the sixth hole. “I like good rolling greens that have a lot of imagination.”

Defending senior PGA champion Alex Cejka, who won last year’s title at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but missed the cut at last week’s PGA Championship on the course, was in a group of 13 in 68. That group included the 64-year-old Langer, who has won 11 senior majors.

“You have to drive it well,” Cejka said. “That’s what I did today. My goal is to find a lot of fairways. If I do that, I can attack the pins. It all depends on the weather in the next two days. If we have weather like this, the last two of [times] It was here, it was a low score.”

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