LUTZ — Russ Cochran was hitting his driver so poorly on Thursday at TPC Tampa Bay that he thought he might need to put a few extra balls in his bag before the opening round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.
"I was teasing my pro-am partners (Thursday)," Cochran said. "They were going to see a personal record of me hitting the ball in the hazard."
Friday was much different.
Starting on the back nine in the 8:10 a.m. group, Cochran birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th holes. He was 3 under before most people made it to work.
After the hot start, Cochran added four birdies on the front nine to finish with 7-under 64 and a two-shot lead over John Cook and Jay Don Blake and three shots clear of Kenny Perry. A group of seven players stood at 3 under, including Joey Sindelar and Tom Purtzer.
"I got off to such a great start," Cochran said. "That kind of set the stage. It gives you freedom. You feel like you could possibly make a mistake or two and be all right."
Cochran, a two-time winner on the Champions Tour last year, made few mistakes Friday. After his three straight birdies, he rattled off six straight pars and shot 33 on the back nine. He had a bogey-free round and felt in the groove all day.
"I hit a couple wayward shots and got away with it," he said. "Then it kind of turned into one of those rounds where you didn't feel like you were going to make any bogeys. It was a great day for me."
Like Cochran, Cook played in the morning and started on the back nine. He was even through 11 holes but then got hot: a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 3, 2-footers on Nos. 4 and 5, a 5-footer on No. 6 and an 8-footer on No. 7.
He went from middle of the pack to second place in about an hour.
"I was either putting from 40-50 feet or tapping in," Cook said. "It was one or the other."
Blake was one of the few players to post a low round in the afternoon, when the wind picked up. He started on the back nine and made the turn at 1 under. But four birdies on the front nine put him into a tie for second. Tom Pernice Jr., Tim Simpson and Ted Schulz, who shot 68s, were the only other afternoon players to shoot 3 under or better.
Perry, 50, is playing in his third Champions event. He has played in six PGA Tour tournaments this year but made only two cuts. He got himself into contention by looking at the leaderboard after playing the 18th hole (his ninth).
"I saw Russ Cochran going low, and I was like, 'Wow, I need to somehow catch up here,' " Perry said.
So Perry stepped on the gas. He made the turn at 1 over then birdied the first hole, made par on the second and had four straight birdies to get within three strokes.
"It definitely changed my mind-set a little bit," Perry said. "I had to figure out a way to get close and stay in the mix."
Going fast right away is something that Perry has learned about the Champions Tour. A seniors tournament is only three days, in most cases, so there is little room for error.
In his only two Champions events last year, Perry tied for 35th in Houston and was 54th in San Antonio, Texas.
"If you're not making birdies, guys are just passing you like crazy," Perry said. "It's amazing how well they play out here. I'm shocked. I was not ready when I came to Houston and San Antonio last year. They beat my brains out."
If Cochran starts hot again today, he might beat everyone's brains out. Cochran had wanted to play conservatively in the opening round, but he said the course led him to attack the flags right away.
"In a funny way, the course kind of dictated me being aggressive with my irons right from the start," Cochran said. "You don't really have any place to bail, so you take aim and hit right at it."