Canada’s legendary Snowbirds thrilled thousands with a jaw-dropping flyover above Club de Golf Fontainebleau to christen the Montreal Championship presented by Desjardins Friday.
Come to think of it, Russ Cochran and Tom Wargo were flying high as well.
Both Wargo and Cochran opened the first Champions Tour stop in Canada in eight years by tying the course record 7-under 65 – with Wargo actually shooting below his age – to get the quick start out of the blocks.
John Cook, the 1983 Canadian Open champion, Joey Sindelar, Jay Don Blake, James Mason, Tom Purtzer and Jay Haas are just one shot back. Six others opened with 67.
With a healthy chunk of the large, electric crowd following 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, the fan favourite posted 69 to keep the leaders within striking distance.
Quebec pro Daniel Talbot is the leading Canadian after opening with a 70, while Victoria’s Jim Rutledge came in with 71. Yvan Beauchemin (72) and Dave Barr (74) will have some work to do if they are to get back into the race this weekend.
Wargo, the affable 67-year-old who owns a collection of ten vintage Harley Davidson motorcycles, was probably itching to hit the wide open road after matching his lowest round in three years in an official event.
Starting his day on the 10th tee, Wargo was 5-under at the turn thanks in part to birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th, a stretch of holes that winds around a large lake and has been dubbed the ‘Hat Trick’ this week.
“It’s always nice to get out of the gate because you get settled into a little more of a routine,” said Wargo, who added he will be retiring in the near future.
After his performance Friday, he may want to rethink those plans.
“I’m just piddling around trying to make some beer money,” he said with a chuckle. “When you’re 67, you’re down the other side of that hill pretty fast and I want to go on to some other things with my life before I hit the bottom of that hill.”
Future plans once he puts the clubs in the closet for good?
“Then I’m going to put in a tomato patch, with a few watermelons and some sweet corn,” he said as the room erupted in laughter.
“I went to my class reunion a little while ago – the 50th. I found out there are there are two parts of life – young and skinny then old and fat.”
Seconds after Wargo left the media centre, in strolled Cochran who, incidentally, used to caddy for Wargo in Kentucky.
“I’ve got some stories about Tom,” he laughed as he went to take his seat.
Before he began to talk about his day, Cochran wanted to discuss the atmosphere in Montreal Friday.
“The enthusiasm of the tournament, it’s just been unbelievable. You can feel it. I was the second group off and I went down to the range early to get a little work in, and the stands were full.”
“That was unbelievable. People are on pretty much every hole, and there were some big crowds checking the Hall of Famers out, and some of the future Hall of Famers as well,” added Cochran, the Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour last year.
After a bogey on the par-4 11th, his second hole of the day, Cochran got down to business with birdies on three of his the final five holes to close out his front side. He made four birdies on his inbound nine, including cashing in a 15-footer on the par-4 eighth.
“The course is in perfect condition,” Cochran added. “Any time you get a golf course in real good shape people find a way to shoot low.”
Couples was even par after six holes before making an eagle on the par-5 seventh to jump start his day. At one point, he was 4-under but gave one back with a bogey on the par-3 17th.
“It was good but not great,” Couples admitted. “There’s going to be hot rounds everywhere. I’m way behind but if I can come out and shoot 5 or 6-under tomorrow, then I’ll have a shot on Sunday.”
When Couples made his eagle, a thunderous roar echoed throughout Fontainebleau.
“That was the fun part,” said Couples of the galleries. “They’ve supported the tournament and this will be one of the best tournaments we have on the Champions Tour. The fans coming out make the whole event for me. I can speak for most of the players that when you come out and there is 20,000 people on a Friday, that’s a lot of fun.”
Talbot can attest to what Couples means. All through his round, the galleries were screaming words of encouragement at one of their favourite golf sons.
“Now I know what it’s like being a member of the Montreal Canadiens playing at the Bell Centre,” said an awed Talbot.
Second round action gets underway Saturday at 10:30 am.
Via Press Release – Marty Henwood, Synchro Sports