Saturday, September 25, 1999

Colbert, Powell share Kroger lead

Pair one stroke up after first round

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jim Colbert follows his ball on the 17th tee during the first round of the Kroger Senior Classic.
(Gary Landers photos)
| ZOOM |
        MASON — He is playing golf for a living, and is in the lead of this tournament and feeling terrific for the first time in a while. Could this get any worse for Jim Colbert?

        “It's an awful feeling,” Colbert said. “I'm out of excuses.”

        He was grinning when he said this. It is not easy to catch Colbert without a smile, especially after he plays the sort of round he did Friday afternoon at the Golf Center at Kings Island.

        With six birdies and only a couple of slips, Colbert opened the Kroger Senior Classic with a 4-under-par 66 to tie Jimmy Powell for the first-round lead.

        “I just missed shooting my age,” said Powell, 64. “I've been playing well for two or three months, but my putting just left me. Today, I started making some. I'm hoping that it's practice beginning to pay off.”

        The two held a one-shot lead over five others, including Senior PGA Tour stars Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan, and a two-shot edge over 11 players, including golf legend Lee Trevino.

        It would appear there is an abundance of players in contention, but in the eight years this

        tournament has been played to its natural conclusion, no winner opened with a score lower than 4-under.

        Colbert, 58, is not surprised to find himself keeping such company. He won this event in 1994, so he knows how to play the Grizzly. In his past two tournaments, he finished fourth and fifth, and he would have earned much more than $519,038 by now were it not for surgery on his left knee that nearly ruined his spring.

        Ask Colbert whether his health problems are in the past, and he could address that knee injury or several other calamities: prostate cancer in 1997, surgery on his right knee a year ago or back problems that have persisted through much of his Senior career.

        He's well beyond the cancer, though. Since surgery to deal with the disease, he's earned more than $2 million on the tour and won the Transamerica championship last October.

        Colbert loosened up quickly in Friday's round. His tee shot at the 430-yard No.1 looked fine, but made a hairpin turn into a right-hand fairway bunker.

        Instead of grousing about his tough luck, Colbert pounded the ball out of the sand to the left side of the green, then made a 30-foot putt for birdie.

        “I had to hit a heck of a shot just to get it on the green,” Colbert said. “You go from feel ing, "Gee, that wasn't the best break I ever got' to walking away with a three.”

        He stormed forward with two more birdies in his first three holes, gave one back with a three-putt at No.9, then used superior shot-making to bring himself to 4-under by the time he finished 15 holes.

        At No.14, Colbert holed out from a bunker. At 15, a 369-yard par-4, a monstrous drive left him with a 45-yard chip, which he placed 3 feet from the cup, then made the putt.

        He was playing with Simon Hobday, who for some reason has been nearby for an abundance of long, snaking putts Colbert has nailed in the past several years.

        When he holed the sand shot, Colbert looked at Hobday and said, “Simon, you make me feel so guilty.” Hobday's response: “No, no, I'm all for you.”

        Were it not for a 25-minute wait at the 16th tee, Colbert might have been able to escape into the clubhouse with the solitary lead. The par-3 16th is tough enough because the green is hard and not holding tee shots. Colbert wound up missing the green left and bogeying.

        “They came around and told us, "This didn't happen until two groups ago, and they hit it behind the grandstand,'” Colbert said. “Well, that's just what I needed to hear.”


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