NAPLES, Fla., Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Argentina's Vicente Fernandez carded a 6-under 66 Friday to grab a one-shot lead after the first round of the Ace Group Classic at the TwinEagles Golf Course.
Winless since 1999 when he captured the Las Vegas Senior Classic for his third career title on the elder tour, Vicente has lots of incentive to play well in 2003.
Last year, he finished out of the top 31 for the first time since joining the Champions Tour and did not play in the season-ending Tour championship for the first time in seven years.
Vicente tied for 17th last week at the Royal Carribean Classic in his 2003 debut.
Mike McCullough, Bruce Fleisher and Jim Thorpe were tied for second at 67, one shot ahead of a longjam of 11 golfers. The large group at 4-under included Gil Morgan, Tom Watson and Canadian Dave Barr, who ended a 16-year title drought last week.
Defending champion Hale Irwin shot a 3-under 69 and was tied for 16th.
Trying to become the first repeat winner here since Mike Hill in 1993-94, Irwin edged Watson by a stroke last year to earn the first of his four titles and sparking him to Player of the Year honors. He also captured this tournament in 1997.
Winless since 1996, the 63-year-old Nicklaus was coming off his best round in seven years, posting a 6-under 66 in the final round last week. But he followed that up with a 4-over 76 Friday and was tied for 68th.
Player, who won this event the first time it was held in 1988, signed for a 2-over 74. The 67-year-old South African has not won since 1998.