Famed putter plays like iron man

Roberts' long game sets up tap-in birdie, 2-shot lead over Hoch

Senior Players Championship

October 06, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Loren Roberts showed yesterday that he can do a little more than just putt.

A player who earned his reputation for his prowess on the greens during a productive eight-win PGA Tour career, Roberts demonstrated his ability with a different club - his 3-iron - on the 18th hole yesterday at Baltimore Country Club in Timonium.

Leading the inaugural Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship by a stroke over Scott Hoch, Roberts stuck his 208-yard approach on the treacherous 496-yard par-4 closing hole to within 2 feet and tapped in for birdie.

It was the fourth birdie of the day for Roberts, who didn't make a bogey in a round of 4-under-par 66, giving him a two-stroke lead over Hoch and a three-shot lead over David Eger and Irishman Des Smyth.

Seven others, including Hall of Famer Tom Watson, former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk and two more first-round co-leaders, Mark Wiebe and R.W. Eaks, are four strokes behind.

"We're just halfway there," said Roberts, 52, who is looking for his seventh Champions Tour victory and second senior major in a little more than two years. "I like my position, and I like some of the things I'm starting to do with my golf swing."

After shooting an opening-round 67 to take a share of the lead, Roberts started reading an instructional article in Golf Digest before going to bed Thursday night. It was on the eight basic fundamentals by Jack Nicklaus and his longtime teacher, Jack Grout.

"I was reading one of them - head position," Roberts recalled with a laugh. "I read that and said, `I'm just going to keep my head back.' I hit some better shots today."

Early on, though, it was his putter that saved him. His first drive of the day landed in a bunker to the left of the fairway, but Roberts was able to make par with a 10-footer from behind the hole.

"I think that really either settled me down or spurred me on or something, because I really played solid the rest of the day," Roberts said.

Putting has always been the strongest part of his game, going back to 1988 when his longtime teacher gave Roberts a heavier, longer putter than he had been using for the first six years of his PGA Tour career.

"The Boss of the Moss," as Roberts has long been called, was soon born.

While Roberts was a steady player on the PGA Tour, a late bloomer who didn't win his first tournament until he was 39 and won his last in 2002 at age 47, he is quickly becoming a star on the Champions Tour.

Roberts won four times last year, including the Senior British Open, and had a chance to win Player of the Year honors if he could have made par on the last two holes of the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Sonoma, Calif.

After making par on the next-to-last hole, Roberts had to two-putt from about 50 feet to finish ahead of Jay Haas for the overall season title. Roberts left himself a 4-footer for par, but missed the putt.

"I would say I was pretty disappointed," Roberts said yesterday. "You never know how many times you have a chance to get there. I was thrilled to death for Jay because he's such a great guy. I really wanted to win the thing the last day. It was a tough two-putt. I was disappointed that it was my putter that let me down."

Roberts understands he might be thought of as a one-dimensional player because of his putter.

"I've gotten an awful lot out of my game as far as a ball striker," Roberts said. "My putter obviously has been the club that has done it for me. With other guys, it might be their wedges or their drivers, for me it was my putter. I'm proud to say that."

But Graeme Courts, who has caddied for Roberts since 2001 and previously worked for a number of players, including renowned putter Brad Faxon, believes that there is more to Roberts' game than just his putter.

"When Loren plays well, everyone says, `He's putting well,' but Loren gives himself a ton of chances to make putts by hitting a lot of fairways and a lot of greens in regulation," Courts said yesterday. "When you give yourself a ton of chances to make putts, a good putter is going to make a lot of putts."

Watson, who played with Roberts the first two days, said putting well is even more of an advantage on the Champions Tour than it is on the PGA Tour.

"The good putters have longevity out here, for sure," said Watson, whose four-putt double-bogey on the par-4 16th dropped him to 3-under. "He [Roberts] certainly makes a lot of putts. That's what you have to do to win out here."

Sticking a 3-iron from more than 200 yards to within 2 feet on the final hole doesn't hurt, either.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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