Loren Roberts made a 45-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to cap a 6-under 65 that gave him a one-stroke lead over two golfers with a special relationship after Friday's opening round of the Commerce Bank Championship.
It was the second straight year Roberts, who is fourth on the Champions Tour money list, held the first-round lead of the 54-hole event played on the Red Course at Eisenhower Park.
And befitting a summer Friday on Long Island, there was quite a traffic jam behind him on the leaderboard.
Gene Jones and Greg Hickman, who has caddied for Jones on the Champions Tour, had 66s to share second place in the $1.6 million tournament.
Defending champion Lonnie Nielsen was among five players at 67, while former PGA Tour stars Ben Crenshaw and Nick Price were in a group of nine, another stroke back. Twelve players finished at 69.
Roberts, the defending Charles Schwab Cup champion, birdied Nos. 15 and 17 with putts that totaled 5 feet, well off the distance that ended his round.
"I hit a 6-iron from 183 yards and then made a bomb on 18," said Roberts, whose next longest birdie putt was from 10 feet, on the par-3 5th. "I turned a so-so round into a very good round with that finish."
Last year, Roberts' lead after the opening round was one stroke over Eduardo Romero, who had a 67 on Friday, and two over Nielsen, who went on to his first victory on either the regular of senior tour.
When told of the similar start from last year's tournament, Nielsen smiled broadly.
"I hope it is," he said. "I played some good golf today and obviously Loren had a beautiful day. I left a couple out there but I feel like I'm in for a good week."
Hickman, who competed in 58 events in a brief PGA Tour career in the early 1990s and has been a caddie for several players on the Champions Tour, birdied his 16th and 17th holes of the day to get within a stroke of the lead. This was his third Champions Tour start this season with a tie for 56th at the Cap Cana Championship in April and a missed cut at the Senior PGA Championship in May. He qualified for this event this week.
"I was a caddie off and on for 10 years and as a caddie you're always thinking golf," he said. "Then (the tour players) talked me into coming out. I hadn't played in 12 days before coming here."
Jones, who has three top-10 finishes this season including one in the Senior PGA Championship, said Hickman had agreed to caddy for him this week if he didn't make the field.
"I was coming down 18 and saw Greg was one off the lead and one in front of me," Jones said. "I said to my caddie, `Wouldn't it be great to birdie the last hole and play in the final group with my caddie.' I hit an 8-iron to about 10 feet and made it and we'll be playing with Loren."
Joining Nielsen and Romero at 67 were Mark McNulty, Keith Fergus and Brad Bryant.
None of the top seven scorers in the first round, including Roberts, has won a tournament this year.
"I'm trying to win. I've been second three times and just haven't been able to get there," said Roberts, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour and seven-time champion since joining this tour in 2005. "Last week I played good and Jeff Sluman played awesome and he won the tournament. The whole idea is to get the win.
"Today I had good patience and I haven't had that at times this year but I've been working on that the last few weeks."
Divots:@ Bruce Fleisher and Jim Thorpe, both two-time winners of this event, both opened with a 70 as did Sluman, who won for the first time on this tour last week at the Bank of America Championship. ... Peter Jacobsen returned to competition for the first time since undergoing knee replacement surgery in March. He had a 77, tied for 75th place in the 78-player field. "Hey, I broke 80," he laughed. ... The winner's purse is $240,000. ... Fifty-four players were at par or below with the field averaging 70.75 on the county-owned public course.