NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Jeff Sluman made a 35-foot downhill birdie from off the green on No. 18 as he and Nick Price combined for an 8-under 64 that gave them a one-shot lead over Scott Hoch and Kenny Perry at the Merrill Lynch Shootout on Friday.
“When I hit the putt and it got through the fringe so well, it just went through perfect, I said ‘Oh, boy, this is probably going a little harder than Nick wants,” said Sluman, knowing Price would have to hit the next putt in the modified alternate shot format.
“I was looking four or five feet by,” Price said, chuckling. “I was at an angle, and I couldn’t see the line of it.”
The ball smacked the flagstick and dropped in the cup.
Sluman and Perry could become the first Champions Tour players to win the $2.9 million Shootout, a 12-team event that continues with a better-ball format on Saturday, and a scramble on Sunday.
Hoch, who also plays on the Champions Tour, and Perry birdied four straight holes to get to 7-under, then Perry made a 10-foot par putt on No. 18.
J.B. Holmes and Boo Weekley eagled No. 17 to finish at 5 under and move into third. Zach Johnson and Scott Verplank birdied the last two holes to get to 4-under, and are tied with Stewart Cink and Fred Couples.
“This tournament, you win or lose based on the first round,” said Perry, who won with John Huston in 2005. “The alternate shot first round, you come out of here shooting even, or 1 or 2 under, and then you get to the best ball and scramble, it’s hard to catch up. You’ve somehow got to shoot 6 under or more the first day to have a chance to win this golf tournament.”
In the previous eight years, six of the eventual champions shot 64s in the first round.
Price and Sluman birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 13, then Hoch and Perry birdied Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 17 to tie them.
“The front nine we didn’t really hit them close enough,” Hoch said. “If you depend on 15-footers in something like this, you’re not going to shoot very low.”
“Alternate shot, to me, is my best game,” Perry said. “I love it in Ryder Cup, for Presidents Cup, whatever.”