Zoeller fires 66, leads by one

Irwin one stroke back at final Champions Tour major

? Fuzzy Zoeller had a 6-under 66, including three straight birdies to open the back nine, and held a one-stroke lead over Hale Irwin Thursday in the opening round of the Jeld-Wen Tradition, the year’s final major on the Champions Tour.

Five players — Wayne Levi, Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Bruce Fleisher and Morris Hatalsky — were another stroke back at 68.

Zoeller started his birdie run with a rifle-straight drive down the par-4, 479-yard 10th that set up a short approach along the creek that later proved to be trouble for defending champion Jim Thorpe, who had a 69.

Zoeller added birdies on 15 and 16, both par-5s, after barely breaking par on the front nine of the 7,200-yard Reserve Vineyards Golf Club.

He bogeyed No. 2, a 205-yard par-3 with a long, sloping green that rarely held the ball.

“Some people push the red button when they bogey one of the first couple of holes,” Zoeller said. “But heck, I was just getting started.”

Irwin had his own string of three birdies, beginning on 15, but said he was unhappy with his overall play.

“I hit some very, very poor shots out there, but fortunately I got away with them,” said Irwin, whose back problems have limited his play.

Irwin, the winningest senior with 37 tour victories, said his back bothered him again Thursday despite steady improvement in his score through a round that did not include a bogey.

Jack Nicklaus, a four-time winner of the final major on the Champions Tour, finished at even-par 72.