TIMONIUM, Md. (AP) — Professional golfers are notorious tinkerers anyway, and the incentive to tweak ones swing only increases as time passes between wins.
So Phil Blackmar and Des Smyth have been doing some major overhauling lately. At least on Thursday, the changes worked.
Blackmar, Smyth and Bruce Fleisher shot 5-under 65s to share the first-round lead in the Senior Players Championship, the fifth and final Champions Tour major of the season.
Blackmar holed out from the fairway for eagle to help offset four bogeys, Smyth had a bogey-free day, and Fleisher made four straight birdies early in his round to top the leaderboard.
All three are winless this year.
Fred Funk, Scott Hoch, Bernhard Langer and Eduardo Romero opened with 66s and 19 players were within three strokes of the lead after an ideal day for scoring at the East Course at Baltimore Country Club.
Blackmar, a Champions Tour rookie who took seven years off from competitive golf, provided the highlight of the day with his approach shot on the 389-yard, par-4 10th hole. His shot with a pitching wedge from 106 yards landed about 10 feet short of the cup and skipped in for an eagle.
A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Blackmar said he expected to be in contention more this season. He has had just three top-10 finishes despite putting well. “As the years gone on, I’ve felt uncomfortable with my swing,” he said. “It’s been getting shorter and shorter going back. Less (shoulder) turn. It’s taken its toll mechanically. It reached the point where I had to do something.”
That something has consisted of a lot of practice time spent working on new swing keys, but he is not ready to declare his swing changes a success just yet. “I hit a lot of good shots today. “I’m excited about that,” said Blackmar, whose last win of any kind came at the 1997 Shell Houston Open. “I’m also very suspicious. I know my game. I know that it comes and goes.”
Smyth’s game seemingly left him after last year. “This has been a really terrible season,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. I’ve been working on a swing change over the last five or six weeks because I got frustrated with how the years gone.”
Smyth, whose son won nearly $14 million in the Irish National Lottery two months ago, hasn’t had a victory since 2005 and hasn’t even managed a top-20 finish this season. But he had three tap-in birdies on the front nine and birdied Nos. 11 and 14.
He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation while trying to perfect a new backswing. He decided to make the change after seeing a videotape of his swing. “The minute I saw it I knew I had to make a big change to get it back on track,” he said, pleased by the early returns. “Really, I was just hoping I could find a little bit of form at the end of the season, so I could take something into next year. I know conditions were really good, but still, it takes a bit of golf to shoot 65.”
Fleisher, an 18-time winner on the Champions Tour but winless since 2004, is the only one of the three leaders who hasn’t overhauled his swing recently. I’m too old, said Fleisher, who turns 60 next week. “To go after something new at this point would be kind of silly.” Fleisher shot a 5-under 30 on the front nine and, after a bogey at 10, sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th to move into a tie for the lead. “Just one of those days that everything clicked,” he said, adding that he believes he can still win on a tour dominated by players five or more years younger than he is. “It certainly becomes harder and harder, but I think it can be done.”
The tournament is sponsored by Constellation Energy.