Ballesteros struggles in Champions debut

May 19, 2007

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Seve Ballesteros got off to a terrible start in his Champions Tour debut Friday, opening with a double bogey and finishing with a 6-over 78 to fall 13 strokes behind leader Scott Hoch in the Regions Charity Classic.

“It was a tough day, especially the way I started,” said Ballesteros, the five-time major champion who turned 50 on April 9. “I was nervous on the first tee and obviously making double bogey on the first hole didn’t help.

The Spanish star has played only two tournaments in the last two years, the British Open last year and the Masters last month.

“I couldn’t put together my whole game,” Ballesteros said. “Something was missing, either the tee shots or the irons, but mainly the putting. I didn’t putt very well today. The last few holes I played a little bit better and I have a better idea what I have to do tomorrow. I hope I play better.”

Hoch, coming off his first Champions Tour victory two weeks ago in the FedEx Kinko’s Classic in Texas, had a 7-under 65 to open a three-stroke lead after the breezy first round at Ross Bridge. It’s the largest first-round lead on the tour this year.

“I’m hitting it good and you’ve got to make putts,” said Hoch, whose career has been sidetracked since 2003 by a wrist injury and left hand surgery in 2005. “I made them at FedEx and I made them today.

“It’s just a different mind-set. Two weeks ago, I finally decided, ‘Why can’t I go out there and win a tournament’ instead of ‘Why not just play my way back into being healthy.’ I’ve gone from ‘Why can’t I win’ to ‘I’ve already won, let’s do it again.'”

Hoch trickled in a delicate downhill chip shot from the fringe on the 15th hole to cap a run of four straight birdies. A three-putt bogey on the 18th hole — Hoch’s third bogey in an 82-hole stretch going back to the final round of the Legends of Golf — prevented him from pulling away even more.

Fuzzy Zoeller, Tom Kite, Bob Gilder and Monday qualifier Rod Spittle shot 68s.

“It’s great to see him play well,” Zoeller said of Hoch. “He’s doing what he has to do — make good putts. When you do that it takes a lot of pressure off the rest of your game.”

Hale Irwin rebounded from a triple bogey on the par-3 ninth hole to shoot a 69. Ben Crenshaw and Bobby Watkins also opened with 69s.