PINEHURST, N.C. -- Before the 15th U.S. Senior Open began, several of the logical contenders were boosting the cause of Jim Albus. Not without reason, as the first round unfolded yesterday.
One group later, Simon Hobday, a four-year Senior Tour regular from South Africa, joined him in the lead.
"I played with Albus last Sunday [in the Senior Players event in Dearborn, Mich.], and he is playing very, very well," said Dave Stockton. "If you are picking people who are going to do well this week, make sure Albus' name is on your list." Lee Trevino added, "Albus is playing the best golf he has ever played."
True enough. He won once earlier this year, and in his past four events has finished fifth, third and second twice. For the year, he has a stroke average of 70.3, and has earned more than $500,000.
"They're just blowing some smoke," Albus said of the reports. "They're diverting attention from themselves by sticking the zinger in me. Still, I'm happy with my golf and my chances."
So yesterday, on a warm, overcast morning over a course wet from a third successive overnight rain, Albus bogeyed the fifth hole, then played the next 13 in 6-under.
"With generous fairways and soft greens, I'm surprised the scores aren't lower," Albus said. Five of his six birdies were on putts inside of 6 feet.
"The last four weeks, I'm 50-something  under par and haven't won. Somebody has played better. I'm playing well, and the last month has been good golf for me."
It has been an up-and-down season for Hobday to this point. He started well with five straight top-10 finishes, but has had only one since.
"I've been playing badly," Hobday said. "I'm still not confident, but I started playing better last week, so I looked forward to coming here. Today [Thursday], I hit some good shots. However, I can't imagine how tough it will be if the greens dry out."
The co-leaders were followed at 68 by Graham Marsh, a 25-year pro from Australia, and Wayne Carey, a 30-day pro from suburban Atlanta.
Marsh birdied three of the first four holes and went on to miss only one fairway. "The key was getting off to a good start," he said. "It gave me the opportunity to attack."
Carey, a retired Atlanta fireman, has been a course superintendent the past couple of years, but has some sponsors and is gearing up for a shot at the Senior Tour.
"This is my first trip here. . . . It is something I have been looking forward to and working toward. I personally had my doubts that I could play with the caliber of golfers out here, and I'm still not real sure I can. It's a learning process."
Stockton, the hottest tour player, had six bogeys in 12 holes and finished at 74.
NOTES: Jack Nicklaus eagled No. 16 and finished at 2-under 69, the same number as posted by Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd. . . . Of the Middle Atlantic contingent, Vinny Giles (Richmond) had the best score, 71, and Labron Harris Jr. (Glen Echo), 72. Bob Bilbo (Argyle CC) called his 79 "a struggle," and Perky Cullinane (Columbia CC) his 79 "humbling." . . . Bruce Lehnhard (Fairfax, Va.) and Mike McGinnis (Holly Hills CC) shot 75s; former Baltimorean Dick Goerlich and one-time Congressional CC pro Larry Wise had 78s; and one-time Maryland Amateur champion Jerry McFerren shot an 81.