Pavel leads latest of Champions’ bunched up major tourneys

The Constellation Senior Players Championship, in progress at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, could be the last major golf championship in the Chicago area for quite awhile. None of the pro tours have such a tournament scheduled here after the last putt drops at Exmoor on Sunday.

On PGA Tour Champions, however, majors are a little different. The 50-and-over circuit holds five of them each year. They’re 72-hole events, while most of the regular tour stops are 54 holes.

The scheduling of them is also on the weird side. This is what Scott McCarron, defending champion in the Senior Players, calls “Major Season.’’

The Senior Players is the middle major in a three-tournament stretch. David Toms won the U.S. Senior Open two weeks ago and the tour didn’t have a tournament the following week. The circuit is also idle for a week after the Senior Players before another major, the Senior British Open, tees off. No other pro tour schedules like that.

“I think it’s great,’’ said McCarron. “I love playing four-day events. I love playing where they get the golf courses tough, so it’s great to play three in six weeks basically. It’s a lot of fun for us.’’

Scott Parel had the most fun on Friday, shooting a 6-under-par 66 to take a one-stroke lead midway through the championship. Parel, at 11-under-par 133, leads Brandt Jobe and Jeff Maggert by one stroke and some of the circuit’s more high-profile stars – McCarron among them – are in a seven-way tie for fourth, two shots back.

Maggert dropped out of a share for the lead when he finished his round with a three-putt bogey at No. 18 on Friday. McCarron also lost a shot – and a share of second place – with a bogey at the last.

“When you make a bogey on the last hole with a sand wedge (for your approach), that’s really disappointing,’’ said McCarron. “But I’m in the mix, so it’s all right.’’

Among those joining McCarron at 9-under are Kenny Perry, the co-first-round leader with Illinois coach Mike Small; Bernhard Langer, the man McCarron upset in last year’s tournament at Caves Valley in Maryland; and the always dangerous Vijay Singh.

Small dropped into a tie for 11th after shooting a 71. Langer had won the Senior Players three years in a row before finishing second to McCarron last year. Now they could duel again in the final 36 holes at Exmoor.

If Parel hangs on to win it would be a surprise. He came to golf late, after working 10 years in the computer industry. He didn’t play college golf and didn’t turn pro until he was 31 years old.. An early starter on Friday, he didn’t think his score would hold up for the lead after his round was over – but it did.

“If the conditions stay the same you’re going to have to shoot the same kind of scores that I’ve shot the last two days to have a chance to win,’’ said Parel. “The course is in perfect shape. The greens are perfect. So guys are going to make a lot of birdies out there.’’

McCarron likes the course but doesn’t feel his defending champion status means much.

“Defending champion doesn’t mean much unless you’re coming back to the same golf course you won at,’’ he said. “Then you have some good positive vibes. Exmoor was a completely new golf course to me and a lot of guys.’’

He’s been battling a sore right ankle that will require surgery when the season is over.

“It’ll be on the ligament that goes right through the ankle. They’ll reattach it,’’ he said. “It doesn’t bother me playing golf. It just bothers me walking. Now it’s starting to bother me under the ball of the foot, so pushing off is difficult. I’m limping around, but that’s the way it goes.’’

Friday’s low score was a 64 by Peter Lonard, who climbed from a tie for 46th place into a tie for 15th. Fifty-six of the 78 starters are under par for the first 36 holes. Today’s play starts at 8 a.m. with Parel, Jobe and Maggert going off last at 10 a.m.