BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – After playing only one event on the European Senior Tour, Roger Chapman showed up at the Senior PGA Championship in fine form.
Chapman shot a 3-under 68 on Thursday to take the early lead at Harbor Shores. Chapman tied for 16th this month in the Mallorca Open — and that's about all he's done this season.
"We have only played one event in Europe this year, so this is probably my fourth real competitive round this year," the Englishman said. "It's a long way to come, a long wait. But I'm very pleased with the way things are going."
With a number of players still on the course Thursday afternoon, Chapman led John Cook by a stroke. Steve Pate, J.L. Lewis, Jeff Sluman, Jay Haas and David Frost shot 70.
Chapman tied for 27th last year in the Senior PGA in Kentucky, his best showing in his first three starts in the major championship.
Harbor Shores opened two years ago for its first full season, and the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout gave players quite a challenge on a windy day along the shore of Lake Michigan. Chapman hit all 13 fairways and made five birdies and two bogeys. He birdied Nos. 7, 8 and 9 on the part of the course closest to the lake.
"My expectations were, just go in and come into the tournament and play as well as I can," Chapman said. "And I must say I'm very happy with what's happened today, so just keep it going."
Chapman's performance came somewhat out of nowhere after his pedestrian showing in Europe.
"We had one event, our first event, which was second week in May. We lost a couple sponsors in China and Brunei, which we normally play a couple in March," he explained. "We never really start very early anyway, but this is probably normally about the third or fourth event of the year."
Defending champion Tom Watson is sitting out the tournament because of a wrist problem. Four-time champion Hale Irwin shot 71 — a solid score that puts him in position to contend again if he can keep it up. Irwin last won the event in 2004, but finished fourth last year.
Fred Couples, who won at Fallen Oak in Mississippi on the Champions Tour in March, made a double bogey on the par-5 15th and shot 76.
"Anything under par is a good score," he said. "It's just another round of golf. I'm 52 years old. If I'm worried what I shot every single round, then that's a problem."
Cook has three top-five finishes on the Champions Tour this year. He missed four fairways, but had only one bogey.
"Today the wind decided it was going to switch completely on us right from the first tee ball. We were trying to figure out what to do there," Cook said. "I know the wind's supposed to be different almost every single day. I know it's supposed to be hot on Sunday. So it just, it just adds those variables."