Vaughn leads, Couples, Norman lurking after day 1 of Senior Players

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FOX CHAPEL, Pa. - Bruce Vaughan, one of a handful of players who took advantage of an early tee time and soft playing conditions, made enough birdies Thursday to earn an invite to the media tent.

Before talking about what stood up as the low round at the Senior Players Championship, Vaughan posed a question to a moderator: “Do you need me to introduce myself and tell them who I am?”

The same thing didn’t need to be asked of some of Vaughan’s closest pursuers since they include Fred Couples and Greg Norman.

Vaughan blistered Fox Chapel on a day that produced extreme heat but not the kind of wind that could help defend the relatively short course.

His 6-under-par 64 tied a Senior Players Championship record for lowest score in the first round and made Vaughan one of 20 players to break par.

The one thing Vaughan’s bogey-free day didn’t provide is breathing room.

Eight players enter today’s second round within three strokes of Vaughan, a Kansas native and 2008 champion of the Senior British Open.

Included in that group are Couples, the defending Senior Players champion, and Norman, who made his first start on the Champions Tour since 2009 and shook off an opening bogey to shoot 67.

Norman played in one of the first groups out yesterday and the one that attracted the largest gallery.

Norman, Tom Watson and Tom Lehman gave fans a show as they combined to shoot 7-under.

Watson, playing for the first time since the middle of April, carded an even-par 70, and he would have been among the leaders had a couple of more putts dropped.

Watson got to 2-under after holing out a delicate chip shot from just off the green at No. 11, a 408-yard par-4. That came shortly after Norman drained a 45-foot birdie putt.

“It means a lot to have them playing period,” Lehman said of Norman and Watson, “and it means even more when they play well.”

Nobody played better on the front nine than Lehman.

The reigning Champions Tour Player of the Year birdied five of the first seven holes to set the early pace, and he made the turn at 30.

Lehman stumbled a bit with back-to-back three-putts on 11 and 12 before finishing with a birdie on No. 18, a par-5 that many players reached in two yesterday. Couples and Allen also shot 66 and joined Vaughan as the only players without a bogey in the first round.

The steady Couples didn’t miss a fairway yesterday, and his round would have qualified as a relatively stress-free one had his back felt better after his round.

“I’m really, really stiff,” said Couples, whose back problems are chronic and well-documented. “I feel lucky I got through this round with that score and I have a lot of rest until (today).”

“If me or Bruce or some of the (players at 4-under par) go way under it’s going to be 16, 17, 18,” said Fred Funk, who finished a shot off the lead.

Notes: Fans will be permitted to take a bottle of water into the next three rounds because of the heat. Fans will be able to re-fill those bottles at the first-aid station and spectator village on the course. ... The first 10,000 fans at Fox Chapel on Sunday will be given Terrible Towels.

This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE