Romero can stand the weather

Birdies were scarce on Thursday at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course.

Even the ones that fly.

Strong winds were consistently 25 mph throughout much of the day with 35-mph gusts, making it difficult for birds to populate the sky, never mind for golfers to score on an already arduous layout at the 68th Senior PGA Championship.

Argentinian Eduardo Romero weathered the conditions the best, shooting a 4-under-par 68 to take a one-stroke lead on an international leaderboard in the Champions Tour's first major of the year.

Joe Ozaki of Japan is in second, Chip Beck of the U.S. is in third at 2-under 70, and tied for fourth at 1-under 71 are Nick Price of South Africa, Denis Watson of Zimbabwe, Massy Kuramoto of Japan and Brad Bryant of the U.S.

"It's pretty bizarre out there," Bryant said. " . . . I have a good friend that works at NASA and he said that maybe next year we could just go ahead and have the tournament in Houston in the wind tunnel."

Thursday's scoring average of 77.28 is the highest of any round on the Champions Tour this year and the highest Senior PGA Championship opening round in 15 years.

"This golf course," said Beck, who managed four birdies and two bogeys, "it's amazing how hard it can be and how rewarding it can be."

There were seven under-par scores in the first round, and 47 scores in the 80s. And those were recorded despite tournament officials taking 187 total yards off seven holes that were playing into the wind to drop the total yardage to barely more than 7,000 yards.

"They moved us up on some tees, particularly on the last two holes," said Tom Watson, who shot 74. "They moved us up on the [par-3] 17th so we didn't have to hit 3-wood into that green. Thank you very much. They're using some common sense."

An indication of the wind's impact could be seen in the measured drives on the par-5 seventh hole, which played with the wind, and par-5 16th hole, which played into the wind. Drives averaged 295.4 yards on the seventh, and just 225.5 yards on the 16th.

"You've got to take advantage of the holes downwind," said Watson, "and on the holes into the wind, you'd better be careful."

Winds are expected to decrease to between 10 and 15 mph for the remainder of the weekend, which might be bad news for Romero.

The 2006 Champions Tour rookie of the year has played much of his career in Argentina and Europe, and believes his game is tailored for the weather.

"I think normally in Argentina the wind is like this all the time," said Romero, who has 93 career victories worldwide. "Also I played in Europe for 22 years and this is just like England, the English and Scottish courses. And I feel very comfortable with this wind."

Romero took advantage of the par-5s Thursday, making birdies on all four by hitting three chips to within 5 feet and two-putting for the fourth. He also birdied the 10th with a 360-yard drive downwind and wedge to 3 feet. His only bogey came on the 18th when he missed a 2-footer.

Romero, 52, is bidding to win consecutive Champions Tour majors. He won the JELD-WEN Tradition near Portland, Ore., last August over Lonnie Nielsen in a playoff. His low ball flight suits the course. "With this wind, for my swing it's perfect," he said.

Romero's pursuers carded their scores in different ways. Denis Watson went about his 71 predominantly with the putter, needing only 23 putts. He began his round with seven consecutive one-putts on the Ocean Course's Seashore Paspalum grass and finished with five straight one-putts.

Bryant, meanwhile, did much of his damage with the driver, hitting 13 of 14 fairways to match Hubert Green for the first-round high.

"I drove the ball just the best I've ever driven it," said Bryant, who lost to Haas in a playoff last year. "So from that standpoint it was actually pretty fun. It could be really a difficult day out there. . . . It was definitely a test of patience and just some things went right for me today."

Several major champions and Champions Tour heavyweights are lurking near the lead, including Loren Roberts, Craig Stadler, Mark O'Meara and defending champion Jay Haas of Greenville, who are all tied for eighth at even-par 72.