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Price rights his golf game

Posted: March 15, 2008 2:42 a.m.
Updated: May 16, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Nick Price tees off on the seventh hole at Valencia Country Club Friday in the first round of the AT&T Champions Classic. Price leads by one stroke after a 6-under 66. It's his first lead since arriving on the tour in 2007.

 
Nick Price wasn't a broken man earlier in the week, but he sounded like it.

Words like desire and confidence were talked about in negative terms as the highly-accomplished golfer prepared for the AT&T Champions Classic.

But on Friday's first round at Valencia Country Club, no golfer played better as Price took the lead with a 6-under 66 on a breezy afternoon.

Two-time Classic winner and defending champion Tom Purtzer trails by one stroke, with Dana Quigley trailing by two.

It was the first lead Price has taken in 18 tournaments on the Champions Tour.

"I felt my game had gone and left me, I don't know where it had gone," Price said. "It's starting to come back now. I'm still not 100 percent happy. There's still work to do to get it to where I can get it."

The former No. 1 golfer in the world hadn't been successful as of yet on the Champions Tour, much to the disappointment of his sponsors, family and to himself, he said.

Price even took heat from critics who had high expectations of the three-time major winner on the PGA TOUR who said he lost his desire to compete.

"It was irritating for me when you have your armchair critics sitting back there saying, 'Oh, he doesn't look like he's trying very hard,'" Price said. "But you don't come out and play tournaments and not try."

Price said he tried to alter his in his latter years on the PGA TOUR to better compete with the changing game and newer crop of big hitters.

He said it affected his swing to the point that he was no longer in a position to win.

Price brought those issues with him onto the Champions Tour and thus has struggled.

Going back to what he was accustomed to, Price said he felt a change in his game at The ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla. in February.

He finished tied for fifth in that tournament.

Price said he put his foot on the gas taking the turn from the back nine to the front.

The World Golf Hall of Famer birdied four straight holes starting on 18.

Prior to 18, he three-putted on 17 for his only bogey.

Price also birdied holes nine and 13, saying after his four straight birdies, he played it conservative.

"Everybody pulls for Nick," Purtzer said. "It certainly helps the Champions Tour when a fellow like Nick Price's name is on top of the leaderboard."

Purtzer, who has been consistently successful at Valencia Country Club, winning also in 2003 and finishing in the top seven in five of his six previous Classics, birdied three holes and eagled No. 9.

The 56-year-old has never led after one round in Valencia.

"Because you only have three rounds here, you really can't have too much of a hiccup," Purtzer said of the mentality going into the second round. "You've got to keep the pedal down and make birdies when you can and know when you need to throttle back and get it in the middle of the green and make pars. If the conditions are as bad as they say it's going to be, par will be a good score (today)."

Because of the gusty winds Friday and forecast for more wind and cooler temperatures going forward, the top two said it will change the way golf is played because of the difficulty of the course.

"It's going to test every player's skill out there and it's going to be a tough day for me," Price said. "I don't want to go out there and wait for things to happen. I've got to go out focused like I did coming out on the back-nine today. ... The golf course is in fantastic condition, but one of the characteristic of poanna greens is in the afternoon they get a little bumpy and when you get a lot of wind it's very difficult to putt these greens."

Loren Roberts, who lost last year's tournament in a playoff with Purtzer is in fourth place at four under and a group of six are at 2-under.

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