Roberts shoots 66, takes 2-shot lead over Hoch in Senior Players Championship

TIMONIUM, Md. (AP) — For some golfers, a scrambling par on the first hole of the day might indicate a tough round ahead.

For Loren Roberts, a difficult par turned out to be the ideal way to start a bogey-free Friday afternoon. He also finished well, capping a 4-under 66 with a 2-foot birdie putt on the troublesome 18th hole for a two-shot lead over Scott Hoch at the midpoint of the Senior Players Championship.

Roberts made four birdies for a 7-under 133 total after 36 holes. Hoch shot a 68 and was alone in second place in the Champion Tour's final major tournament of the year.

David Eger shot a 67 to finish at 4 under, tied with Des Smyth, who had six birdies and two bogeys on the back nine en route to a 66.

Roberts began the day in a five-way tie atop the leaderboard. He saved par on the 427-yard first hole, blasting out of the left bunker within 10 feet of the hole before sinking the putt.

"I think that settled me down or spurred me on or something, because I really played solid the rest of the day," he said. "I hit a poor tee shot and was able to recover from that. If you don't, you make a bogey. A lot of it is about momentum and attitude."

Roberts made birdie putts ranging from 4 to 12 feet on Nos. 5, 6 and 15. His best shot of the day came on the 496-yard par-4 18th, when he hit a 3-iron from 208 yards to 2 feet of the pin.

Only one player birdied the 18th hole during the first round; Roberts and Hoch were among five who did it Friday.

"It's a tough hole. It's surprising, and it feels good to do it," Hoch said.

Roberts' final birdie provided him with a bit of separation from the rest of the field, although he wasn't ready to begin celebrating.

"Halfway through it doesn't matter. I think the only time it matters is when you make that turn on Sunday and you're on the 10th hole," he said.

That's the approach Roberts used on the expansive 7,003-yard Baltimore Country Club course. Instead of attacking the unfriendly layout, he was cautiously prudent.

"For me, playing a golf course like this is a chess match. It's not go out and fire at all of the pins and make a bunch of birdies," he said. "You have to make your birdies where you can and you realize you're going to have to make a couple of good putts for pars here and there."

Hoch gained sole possession of second place with a twisting 25-foot putt on 18.

"When it got about two feet from the hole I thought, man, here's another one I'm going to leave just short," he said.

Playing under cloudy conditions, Hoch repeatedly left his putts short of the hole. He blamed the shortcoming on the heavy greens.

"I guess it's because there's a little moisture in the air and the sun has not come out to dry them out like yesterday afternoon," he said. "Today I just couldn't quite get it to the hole, but I hit enough good shots and recovered from the not-so-good shots to still have a good round."

Hoch's only bogey was on No. 3, when his drive hit the top of the bunker and rolled down. He rebounded with a birdie on No. 4, sank a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 7 and parred the next 10 holes before going out with a flourish with a wicked putt on the 18th.

"On the hole before I had about the same putt, maybe 5 feet farther," Hoch said. "It just died short of the hole dead in the middle."

Seven players were at 3 under, including Mark Wiebe, Fred Funk and Tom Watson, who stumbled with a double bogey on the par-4 16th hole.

The tournament is sponsored by Constellation Energy.

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