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Gorman: For Huston, sore back was no problem

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
First-round leader John Huston hits off the 15th fairway during the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Thursday, June 27, 2013, at Fox Chapel Golf Club.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013, 11:03 p.m.

His golf shoes were declared illegal, yet he won the 1990 Honda Classic. He had to play a critical shot off the path to win Disney in '92. And he was victoriuos at Doral in '94 despite playing the first 11 holes all alone.

A balky back?

For John Huston, it was no problem.

“I think every little experience you have you draw from that,” Huston said. “You still have to hit the shots. You still have to play good. But there's definitely an advantage having experiences like that.”

Huston hit the shots, including five birdies and an eagle Thursday to finish the first round at 5-under-par 65 and atop the leaderboard at the Constellation Senior Players Championship.

His round was a relief more than anything, given that Huston hurt his back in April at the Greater Gwinnett Championship in Duluth, Ga.

Prior to the Encompass Championship last week, he hadn't completed a tournament since mid-March.

Huston doesn't hesitate to try new concepts — he used to wear shoes with magnets in the soles — so he listened to stretching advice from Rocco Mediate.

“I've had normal back problems for 20 years but never anything serious,” said Huston, 52. “This is probably the worst it's been.”

Which only makes his round after a nearly five-hour rain delay that turned meticulously maincured Fox Chapel Golf Club into mush all the more impressive. Huston started on the 10th tee, missed a 10-foot putt on the 13th green for bogey and didn't birdie until No. 18.

What he did, shooting 30 on the back, was fairly amazing for a guy who shot 11-over 81 in the final round and tied for 71st (out of 81) at the Senior Players last year.

“I drove it terrible last year,” Huston said. “I think the course played totally different last year. It played hard and fast. I remember I didn't play very well.”

This time, he was almost impeccable.

Huston birdied Nos. 1 and 2, hitting a pitching wedge to within 4 feet, followed by a 4-iron within 30 feet and a two-putt. He used the wedge again for a 12-footer on No. 5, a 7-iron to set up a 40-footer on No. 6 then hit his driver to within 25 feet on the par-4, 295-yard No. 7 and made eagle.

“I had just made a really long putt for birdie on the par-3 and hit a good drive that landed by the hole and went to the back of the green,” Huston said, “so those two long putts in a row really vaulted me up there.”

All alone at the top.

“Well, I'm glad I wasn't watching a leaderboard,” said Duffy Waldorf, one of four players tied at one stroke off the lead. “I didn't know that he had done that, but that's good playing.”

Where 90-degree heat made Fox Chapel's fairways and greens play hard and fast last year, Mother Nature made it messy Thursday. That not only altered tee times but emboldened the players' approach.

“I think it's something natural — you're either born that way or you're not,” Huston said. “I feel like whenever you do have the momentum you have to take advantage of it because it could turn around and go the other way just as fast.”

That would be a problem, but one Huston can worry about another day.

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