CARY — Russ Cochran has long been a good match for the golf course at Prestonwood Country Club, and Friday’s first round at the SAS Championship was no exception.
He shot a 6-under-par 66 on another cool, damp day, finishing in a three-way tie for the lead with Larry Nelson and Mark Mouland in the 13th annual PGA Champions Tour event on the club’s hybrid Meadow/Highlands course.
The tournament took a blow with the withdrawal of Nick Faldo, who was making his Champions Tour debut but was forced to withdraw after six holes with a painful left forearm.
Cochran, who won here in 2010, has been first after 18 holes on four of his five trips and was tied for second the other time. He shot a 30 on the par-37 back nine for the big first-day finish.
“I shot 29 a couple times at Pebble Beach on the front side, (but) that's a little different story there,” Cochran said. “This – with a 30 as a par 37 on the back – you feel like you can get hot. But of course I holed a shot (from 166 yards out on No.10) and I played a pretty good or a good solid nine after that, too.
“I think it has to do with the fact the greens are soft and if you get it in that slot and you’re driving it in the fairway, the fairways were great and you can take it right at the hole.”
It was a particularly special day for the Hall of Famer Nelson, 66, who shot his age for the first time.
“Last year I missed it from about 10 feet to shoot 65 here on Saturday, so for some reason this course has been kind of good to me and I always enjoy playing it,” Nelson said. “Today I just felt really comfortable hitting shots and I got 6-under on the front and that's what we were thinking about.
“I said, ‘Well, if I can shoot under par on the back or even par on the back, I’m going to shoot my age.’ … Anyway, I missed a short putt on 17 for birdie that would have gotten me to 7‑under.”
Reidsville native and North Carolina graduate Mike Goodes and defending champion Bernhard Langer are in a group of five one shot off the lead at 67, with 33 of the 80 finishers shooting under par on the 7,212-yard layout.
“I actually love this course and I’ve never played very good here,” Goodes said. “People always kind of assume this course doesn't fit my eye but it does. I’ve never had a good tournament here. I’ve had decent tournaments, but I don't feel any more pressure.
“I have some friends that come out obviously – I only live a little over an hour away – but that's never seemed to bother me. They come up to Hickory, too, and I've had some good tournaments up there. You know, I grew up on bent greens, so that should be a positive for me.”
Smithfield’s Neal Lancaster is in a group of nine at 68 including tour leader and 2011 champion Kenny Perry and Tom Kite.
“I started out a little rough – I mean, you’re never satisfied in this game,” Lancaster said. “I made I guess a 50 or 60-footer for par on the first hole. Actually I struggled the first three holes and then I kind of made a change in my setup (and) bent over more in my address position.
“Prestonwood has always been great to me. … They gave me a sponsor exemption again this year and last year.”
Competition in the three-day event begins today and Sunday at 10 a.m.