Romo sinks seven birdies to take ACC lead |

Romo sinks seven birdies to take ACC lead

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

STATELINE – About the only thing missing from a crowd-pleasing first round Friday at the American Century Championship was Charles Barkley’s swing coach Hank Haney.

For starters, one of the 90-player field’s top attractions – Tony Romo – rose to the top of the leader board at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

The stars didn’t leave all of the entertainment to Romo:

n Retired NFL running Marshall Faulk became only the third celebrity in the 20-year history of the event to score a hole in one.

n Comedian/actor Ray Romano was handing out money to young children so they could go watch his latest movie “Ice Age 3.”

n Michael Jordan even showed flashes of returning to his golf form of the 1990s by shooting an opening-round score of 15 to complete his 18-hole round in a tie for 18th. More importantly to his followers, Jordan signed autographs before leaving the course.

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Romo, the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback, rolled in seven birdies, including putts on the first two holes, to post a score of 27 points.

“I’ll take it,” Romo said. “I drove the ball well and gave myself a lot of opportunities. It was a good start.”

Defending champion Rick Rhoden made a back-nine charge to move into second place, two points behind Romo.

Rhoden struggled to make anything happen with his putter. He attempted 36 putts, including four tries with the flatstick after reaching the par-5 third hole.

“First time I’ve been on 3 (in two) since I hurt my neck, probably in six, seven years,” Rhoden said. “I probably had 40 feet … putted it about three feet left of the hole, (then) putted it about three feet by the hole (and) putted it two feet by the hole. I finally snuck her in there for six.

“I never felt comfortable putting. It’s probably the worst putting round I’ve had here since the first year.”

Three birdies on the back nine helped Rhoden stay in close pursuit of Romo.

“We all knew Tony Romo was a good player,” Rhoden said. “I played with him last year, the last round, and I kept telling my friends, ‘He’s going to win some these tournaments.'”

Former NHL goalie Grant Fuhr and Trent Dilfer, who ended his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, moved into position to win their first championships. Fuhr accumulated 24 points for third place, and Dilfer was fourth at 23.

During his press conference, Romo restricted his conversation to two topics – football and golf. Entertainment sources were reporting that Romo broke up with girlfriend Jessica Simpson, who accompanied him to the tournament last year.

“I don’t want to talk about my personal life,” he said. “But I appreciate you asking the question, though.”

Romo’s opening-round birdie barrage wasn’t predictable given his playing habits coming into the tournament. Romo said he played sparingly in the past few weeks. His first practice round at the tournament came on Thursday.

“It’s all about consistency,” Romo said. “This game, it’s no different than other sports. You’re trying to get to where you do it enough times, that it’s not something new.”

Faulk delivered the tournament’s first ace in 10 years and the first one ever made on the 172-yard 17th hole.

“The funny part is I hit a bunch of shots at the hole and all of them spun back and off the green,” Faulk said. “I’m just hoping it stops. It hit and spun back and went in.”

Faulk’s sixth career ace was worth eight points in the modified Stableford scoring format, salvaging a disappointing first round. Faulk is tied for 32nd place with 11 points.

“It’s definitely the highlight in my golfing career,” Faulk said.

Romano delivered on his promise to give two young children $20 to see “Ice Age 3” if he hit his tee shot on the green on the par-3 seventh hole. Romano’s tee ball found the mark, and the former star of the comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond” reached for his wallet.

“Even when I win, I lose,” complained Romano, who went on to par the hole.

Romano’s playing partner, Barkley, struggled with his swing again, even though he received a series of lessons from Haney, Tiger Woods’ swing coach, during a reality TV show on the Golf Channel last spring. Barkley dipped and hitched his way to a score of -30, but not bad enough to occupy the tournament’s basement. Actor Kevin Nealon and Mixed Martial Arts star Chuck Liddell are tied for last at -36.

Jordan has finished in the top 20 only three times in his previous 13 tournament appearances. Relying on an accurate driver and clutch putter, Jordan was able to move within a few late birdies of making the leader board. But the former Chicago Bulls’ star was unable to birdie the par-5 16th and 18th holes. Jordan’s second shot landed in Lake Laimbeer on No. 18. After taking a drop in front of the pond, Jordan wedged his fourth shot within five feet of the hole. He pushed the tricky downhill par putt past the hole and made the uphill attempt for bogey.

Jordan celebrated his second-best Stableford ever with his fans, signing autographs behind the clubhouse.