CONOVER, N.C. — Bob Tway was walking from the putting green to the first tee at Rock Barn on Friday morning when he saw Mike Goodes shot a 28 on the front nine.
“After playing the pro-am we knew we had to shoot low,” Tway said. “But then when you see someone shoot 28, I think it kind of shocks you in that, ‘Ooh, we’re going to have to shoot really low.'”
No problem for Tway, especially when you have only 23 putts.
Tway birdied the 18th hole for a 9-under 63 on Friday to open a one-shot lead over Goodes, Tommy Armour III, Joe Ozaki and Mark Wiebe after the first round of the Champions Tour’s Greater Hickory Classic.
After shooting a 62 in the final round on the same course last year when the event was played in October, Tway took advantage of the hot conditions that made for target golf. Rock Barn was tamed by soft greens, firm fairways and little wind.
The 69 of 81 players broke par, a record for any round in a Champions Tour event since records began in 1983.
“Right now the ball is going forever,” Tway said. “You’re hitting clubs off the tee that you wouldn’t even have dreamed of last year.”
Combine that with his hot putter and the 52-year-old Tway could finally be in line for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. The 1986 PGA Championship winner doesn’t have a top-10 finish this year.
“I don’t know if you ever think anybody is due in this darn game,” Tway said. “I think the thing is I still really enjoy practicing. I enjoy playing. As long as I feel that passion for it I’ll continue to do it. As soon as I lose that I’m out of here.
“I still have that desire to get better.”
Tway will enter the weekend with 23 other players within four shots of the lead. Mark Calcavecchia, Mark O’Meara and David Eger opened with 65s. Jeff Sluman, Kenny Perry and Jerry Pate were in the group three back.
The early part of the day was dominated by talk of potentially the first 59 on the Champions Tour.
Goodes’ eye-popping front nine included eight birdies. He made long putts and short ones, reached par-5s in two and stuck a 4-iron to 12 feet on No. 9 before sinking the putt for his sixth straight birdie.
“That’s a lot of ‘made it’s,'” Goodes said, smiling, as he went over his round.
Goodes couldn’t keep the magic going, shooting an even-par 36 on the back.
“The front nine was fun. I would have liked to have played it again for the back nine,” said Goodes, who was one shot shy of matching the tour record for best front-nine score. “I hit the ball really good on the front and made all the putts. It was kind of a dream round.”
The 54-year-old Goodes’ career-low round maybe wasn’t that big of a surprise. The late bloomer from nearby Reidsville who didn’t pro until he turned 50, shot a 65 on Sunday in Iowa to tie for third.
“I think my distance control and my irons have been a lot better the last couple of weeks,” said Goodes, who won his lone Champions Tour title in 2009. “I’ve had a lot more shorter birdie putts. Instead of being 20 feet short of the hole or 20 feet long, they’re getting a lot closer.”
That was also the case for Armour, who is without a top-10 finish in nine starts. But he’s gained confidence since seeking advice about his struggling iron play.
“From about the middle of last year until about three weeks ago I’ve been hitting the ball badly,” Armour said. “I’ve been hitting a lot of fat shots with some hook on them. I just couldn’t figure out why. I saw a couple of people about it, came up with some ideas and it’s working.”
It was working for just about everybody except defending champion Gary Hallberg, who shot a 73.
With the weather expected to remain the same over the final two rounds, Tway predicted it would take 20 under or better to win.
“It’s always tough to get the first one,” Tway said about his Champions Tour drought. “It would be nice.”