By Ken MacLeod
Alex Cejka, who defeated Steve Stricker in a playoff to win his first senior major at the Regions Tradition in early May, is off to a solid start in his pursuit of a second.
Cejka led the morning wave with a 3-under par 67 in the Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club.
Stricker was also at 3-under through seven holes when a line of storms forced the afternoon wave off the course at 3:48 p.m. The remainder of the first round was postponed with a resumption of play at 7:15 a.m. After the first round is over, those who played Thursday afternoon will then play their second rounds, while those who played Thursday morning will begin their second rounds late and not conclude until Saturday morning. The cut will then be made and it is hoped the third round will be able to be completed Saturday.
After a bogey on the first hole, the native of Czechoslovakia who now resides in Las Vegas birdied holes 3, 4 and 5, despite difficult pin positions on the sloped Southern Hills greens on each. He added three more birdies on the back nine.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, Mike Weir and John Riegger each shot 2-under in the morning. At 1-under were Brett Quigley, Shaun Micheel, Gene Sauers, Larry Mize and John Huston.
Cejka was long and accurate off the tee, giving him the confidence to go at the flag even on pin positions that normally would call for a safer shot.
“I hit great tee shots which set me up with short clubs to the green on 3 and 4, and then hit it in a greenside bunker on 5 and made a great up-and-down from there,” Cejka said. “So that helped hitting big drives where you suddenly have a short iron in. Especially into those pins that were tucked behind those bunkers and they were pretty tricky. I didn’t expect it the first day to have it set up like this, but it’s tough.
“I’m feeling great,” Cejka said. “I played great shots, I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, gave me a lot of good chances and I’m very pleased where I’m standing right now after day one so far I feel good the last couple of weeks in general with the whole game. Putting’s been great. Obviously to win tournaments you have to have the whole package. You got to drive well, chip well, putt well, you got to get lucky, and that’s part of the game too. So far I’ve been hitting well, chipping well, putting well, hopefully I keep going like this.”
Weir, who is also experiencing a resurgence in his game, pulled a back muscle on Tuesday and could not bend over, let alone swing a club. After hours in the fitness trailer, he was able to play and reached 4-under on the back nine before hitting into a greenside bunker on 15 and a fairway bunker on 16, leading to bogeys on both.
“I putted well today,” said Weir, who made six birdies, including a 20-footer on the first hole and one he estimated at 40 feet on the par-5 13th. I rolled the ball really well. That was the big thing. My driving was a little off, but the putting was good and even the ones that didn’t go in felt good.”
Micheel, whose lone victory came in the 2003 PGA Championship, said the rolling greens on the restored Southern Hills course can be so treacherous that at times he missed the greens intentionally with his approach shots, knowing he could get up and down from safer areas.
“There were quite a few front pins,” Micheel said. “The greens here are phenomenal, but the front pins are tricky because the greens are pretty firm. I intentionally missed a couple of greens just because of that. Sometimes you just have to do that. I call it just kind of take your medicine a little bit and just leaving yourself the next opportunity.”
Among golfers with Oklahoma ties, Willie Wood of Edmond was at even par through 13 holes when play was suspended. Brandt Jobe of Edmond shot a 1-oiver 71. Former OU golfer Glen Day was 1-over through five holes. Scott Verplank shot 2-over 72. Former Tulsan Matt Gogel was 3-over through 12. Former Sooner Todd Hamilton was at 3-over through nine holes and former OSU golfer Bob May shot a 5-oiver 75.
Host professional Cary Cozby, granted a special exemption to play in the tournament, got off to a solid start and was 1-over through six holes. But he made a pair of bogeys coming in, then suffered an 8 on the par-4 10th hole when his second shot hit the green but spun off and down a hill into a difficult lie.
“I made the worst possible score on the front nine I could have from where I hit my drives,” Cozby said. “Then 10 was just a disaster. I really should have shot around par. But it’s still been a wonderful experience. To play with Jay Haas and Tom Lehman, have all my family and friends here and my son Banks on the bag, it’s just awesome.”
Lehman, who was 4-over after three holes, battled back to shoot a 1-over 71.