SNOQUALMIE — Just when it seemed it would be two sharing the lead after one round of the Boeing Classic, Ernie Els joined the party.
Els, a four-time major champion, sank an eagle putt he estimated at 50 or 60 feet on the par-5 18th hole, joining Billy Mayfair and Woody Austin on top of the leaderboard at 6-under 66 on Friday at the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge.
“I had a nice round,” said Els, 51, making his first appearance in this event. “I felt like I was in control of my golf swing, which is nice. For me, I’ve got to really get the tee shots in play, which I did most of the day.”
Seattle native Fred Couples also made an important long putt on the 18th hole. He made about a 15-footer for birdie, his third birdie in his final five holes, and he salvaged an even-par 72 after a very rough start.
Four players are a shot behind the leaders — Jerry Kelly, the 2017 Boeing Classic champion, Scott Parel, the 2018 champion, World Golf Hall of Famer Davis Love III and Steven Aiker.
Pullman native Kirk Triplett is tied for 25th at 2 under. Brian Mogg of Gig Harbor is in 51st at 1 over.
Els had a great start (birdies on the first two holes) and the eagle at the end.
“That putt on 18 is obviously a huge bonus, so that was really nice to finish with a 3,” Els said.
Mayfair, 55, won five times on the PGA Tour, but is still looking for his first victory on PGA Tour Champions. He has finished second three times, including in the 2016 U.S. Senior Open, his first event on the 50-and-older tour.
He was third in the 2017 Boeing Classic.
“Anytime you go back to a course where you’ve had success and you’ve played well, you like getting back there,” Mayfair said. “This is a shot maker’s golf course. You’ve got to hit some good shots here, and I hit it high and that helps me a lot here.”
Austin, a four-time winner on PGA Tour Champions, entered this event after a three-week break “to try and get my brain right” after 12 straight events without a top-10 finish.
Austin said he hadn’t been playing poorly, but the scores weren’t indicative of that.
“Today was probably the first round of the year I didn’t shoot the highest score I could have shot, whereas every round this year I think I’ve shot the absolute highest score I could shoot every single day,” he said.
Austin made nine birdies Friday and said the score could have been better.
“I made enough birdies to offset the stupid three bogeys because I really shouldn’t have made a bogey,” said Austin, 57. “One was a three-putt. The other two — the
only two greens I missed — I’m barely off the green, I chip them up there close and I can’t make a four-footer for a par.”
Couples needed a strong finish to stay within striking range of the leaders.
He made a bogey on the par-5 first hole after topping his second shot from the rough. He was the first player to bogey that hole, and 47 of the 81 players in the field made birdies on it.
When Couples bogeyed the par-3 ninth, his fifth bogey of the front nine, he moved near the bottom of the leaderboard at 3 over. But the strong finish gave Couples and his legion of fans hope.
“I went from last to three-quarters of the way to last,” said Couples, tied for 45th. “It just was mediocre. Actually, I hit the ball solid and everything, but I just kept making bogeys (on the front nine).”
Couples, 61, knows he will need a couple of low scores to win a PGA Tour Champions event in front of his hometown fans for the first time.
“I have, ‘I hope to hit the ball well,’ in mind and let the number go,” said Couples, who led the 2019 Boeing Classic by five shots entering the final round before finishing third. “I mean, I won’t be leaving many putts short. Why would I?”
Couples is looking for his 14th PGA Tour Champions win. Mayfair would certainly love to get his first.
“It would mean the world,” Mayfair said. “That’s what we work for, that’s what we come out here for, that’s what we grind for and we practice for. My wife and I have never won together and my son’s never seen me win. It would be really special, trust me.”