SAUCIER, Miss. — Hal Sutton has a new left hip and that’s helping him get back to his old swing.
The result is the 54-year-old’s best golf in more than a decade.
Sutton shot a 3-under 69 on Friday in the first round of the Champions Tour’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic for a share of the lead with Steve Elkington, Corey Pavin and Roger Chapman.
"I’ve been trying to correct some bad habits that I had from that bad hip," Sutton said. "Today was progress."
The round was peppered with light showers and unpredictable wind gusts that helped keep scores from going too low. Sutton played in the first group of the day and managed to stay out of trouble for most of the morning — moving to 5 under with a birdie on 13 — but had two bogeys on the back nine and needed a 15-foot putt on 18 to save bogey.
The 18th hole nearly undid much of Sutton’s hard work.
Sutton, from Shreveport, La., hit his second shot into the bunker. It smacked the side of the trap and ricocheted across for a difficult lie in the sand.
That’s when things got really interesting. He fell on his back as he was trying to get into the bunker — not the greatest move for a man who just had hip replacement surgery — and then his first attempt to get out of the bunker hit the lip and fell backward.
His second shot was much better, but slid about 15 feet past the hole, which set up the clutch bogey putt. Sutton hasn’t won a tournament since the PGA Tour’s 2001 Houston Open.
Sutton won 14 times on the PGA Tour but didn’t play for about five years before becoming eligible for the Champions Tour in 2009. He hasn’t had much success over the past few years — mostly because his painful hip made it difficult to maintain a consistent swing.
But now he says he’s healthy and his old swing is returning.
"I really felt good on the golf course today," Sutton said. "I have not had a round since I’ve been out here that I felt as solid as I did today. So we’ll just keep trying to do the same thing."
Pavin made three straight birdies on Nos. 6-8 to vault into a tie for the lead. He has had a good start on the Champions Tour this year with two top 10s in four events.
Six players a stroke back, including points leader and money leader David Frost, the winner last week in Newport Beach, Calif. Defending tournament champion Fred Couples opened with a 72.
Tee times for Saturday’s round have been pushed up three hours because severe thunderstorms are expected in south Mississippi. The first group will tee off at 8 a.m.
"It’s a hard golf course to score on when the greens are firm like this," Pavin said. "So if we don’t get rain, it’s probably going to give a bunch of guys a chance."