Sluman shines with course record

Jeff Sluman has taken a one-shot lead at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic with a first-round, course record 66.

Jeff Sluman has taken a one-shot lead over Tom Lehman at the at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic with a first-round 6-under 66 that matched the Fallen Oak course record set by David Frost and Gary Halberg last year.

Sluman highlighted his bogey free round with a majestic eagle struck with a 9-iron from 154 yards out on the par-4 4th, the ball hitting the green five feet from the pin and then rolling into the hole

He knew it had a chance from the moment he hit it.

“I said ‘Boy, this is as good as I’ve got,'” said Sluman when telling the media that he knew the ball would find the hole the minute he hit it.

And that wasn’t all. He birdied two more holes on the front nine and two after the turn to finish a near flawless round at 6-under..

“The longest (birdie) putt I made was from three feet,” said Sluman, a three-time Champions Tour winner. “If I’m going to have a chance to contend in this golf tournament, I’ve got to make some putts over three feet. The greens are perfect.”

Sluman said many golfers struggled last year because they were playing the Tom Fazio-designed course, built in 2006, for the first time and wind and rain dominated all three days of the event. This year there has been little wind and plenty on sunshine and the scores are lower though the course is still no pushover. First round scores averaged 72.456, the highest on the Champions Tour this year.

.”Last year, I really had a nice feel for the golf course tee to green, but I didn’t putt very well,” Sluman said. “But I did like the golf course and the way it was set up.”

The 18th, a 460-yard par 4 with a fairway guarded by deep bunkers on the left and the course’s signature fallen oak tree on the right was particularly nasty – and Dan Forsman is one of many who testify to that.

He birdied four of five holes on the back nine to get within one shot of Sluman before a bogey on 18 left him two shots back on 68. The 460-yard par 4 has a fairway littered with obstacles, including deep bunkers on the left and the course’s signature fallen oak tree on the right.

Sluman managed to escape the clutches of the final hole with a par to keep his round bogey free

“Not only does (the green) run away from you, but it’s downgrain,” Sluman said. “So usually you’re hitting a longer cut shot in there to the green — it’s just a bear.”

Tom Lehman, who leads the standings, is in second place after a 67. His success followed Sluman’s theme: impeccable ball striking which led to reasonable putts. He also shot a bogey-free round.

“I’m always thrilled when I play a round without a bogey, whether I’m playing at home or playing out here,” Lehman said. “You’re doing a lot right when you do that.”

Forsman, Nick Price and David Frost are tied for third at 4 under.