SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jack Nicklaus was uncharacteristically erratic yesterday, but his flashes of brilliance outweighed his mistakes and gave him the lead in the first round of The Tradition at Desert Mountain.
Nicklaus made just seven pars, but offset a bogey and double bogey with eight birdies and an eagle for a 7-under-par 65.
Nicklaus is after his third straight championship in the $800,000 tournament, played on the 6,864-yard Cochise Course he designed Desert Mountain.
Scores were low because of greens softened by nearly a week of sometimes heavy rain. Nicklaus' round tied the tournament record set by Phil Rodgers in the first round last year.
"People talk about how the course will play really long because it's wet out there, but did you ever see a soft course where the pros didn't shoot good scores?" Nicklaus said.
In all, 31 players in the field of 81 bettered par and 16 others matched it.
Mike Hill, the Senior PGA Tour's player of the year in 1991, and J. C. Snead stayed close at 66.
Lee Trevino, whose duels with Nicklaus helped popularize the regular tour in the 1970s, was one of four pursuers two shots back at 67.
Gibby Gilbert, Dave Hill and Dick Stockton also were in the group.
Miller Barber, Tommy Aaron, Larry Ziegler, Jimmy Powell, Ben Smith, Mike Joyce, Jim Albus and 69-year-old Charlie Sifford were bunched three shots off the pace at 68. Billy Maxwell, DeWitt Weaver, Al Geiberger and Chi Chi Rodriguez shot 69.
Nicklaus cut it close at The Tradition last year, falling 12 shots off the pace before rallying to win by a stroke. He said he wasn't planning on a hot start this time.
"When I went out this morning, the way I warmed up, I was thinking that if I shot somewhere under par, I'd be happy," he said.
Starting on the back nine, Nicklaus bogeyed the first hole when he two-putted from 12 feet after a chip.
However, he went the rest of the way without a three-putt green, needing a total of 26 putts to finish the round and cast a cloud over the hopes of other competitors.
"He's in a different category from the rest of us," said Snead, who had six birdies and 12 pars.