Sometimes familiarity is helpful on a golf course. Other times it doesn’t matter.

Such is the case after the first round of the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. Steven Alker is seeing the TPC Sugarloaf for the first time this week and Doug Barron has played dozens of rounds there.

But after the first round the two are tied for the lead after shooting 7-under 65s on an overcast, breezy day in Duluth.

The pair holds a one-shot lead over Shane Bertsch and Tim Petrovic, and a two-shot advantage over John Senden, Richard Green and Paul Broadhurst, who won last week’s Invited Celebrity Classic.

Defending champion Stephen Ames opened with a 1-under 71, the same score posted by tournament host Stewart Cink.

Barron has a good history at TPC Sugarloaf. He tied for fifth here in 2020 in his senior debut and tied for 14th in 2022 when he closed with a 64. He tied for seventh at the PGA Tour’s BellSouth Classic in 2006.

He made the savvy move this week of trading in his graphite-shafted clubs for steel shafts to help with distance control. It turned out to be a smart decision, particularly when the wind began to pick up midway through the ground.

“I just feel comfortable,” Barron said. “I’ve played so many rounds here. There’s a lot of risk-rewards. Man, it will pucker you up. I’m not going to lie. The wind is swirling all over the place and the back nine was tough, but I kept making putts. It was crazy.”

He was 6-for-6 in scrambling and got up-and-down from the bunker in his only chance. He had one three-putt 17.

“I only had one boo-boo and I chipped it really well,” Barron said. “You see the scores and people don’t realize this is a hard golf course.”

Alker has never played at Sugarloaf, but remarked favorably about conditions and admitted it could be a handful.

“Good solid par 4s out there,” he said. “You’ve got to have your wits about you on a lot of holes. You’ve got to ball-strike it a little bit around here and hit your spots. You’ve got to hit good shots into the greens to give yourself chances, otherwise you’re just working hard all day if you’re missing greens.”

Steven Alker reacts after he teed off on the third hole during the first round of the Mitsubishi Classic senior golf tournament at TPC Sugarloaf, Friday, April 26, 2024, in Duluth, Ga. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Alker was dialed in off the tee, hitting 13 of 14 fairways. He made a nice par on No. 18 (his ninth hole) after leaving a shot in the bunker. He finished with a birdie on the dangerous par-4 ninth hole, one of only six made there on Friday.

Alker, the leader in the Charles Schwab Cup points race, is going for the rare Mitsubishi Electric sweep. He won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai to open the season, his eighth victory on PGA Tour Champions.

Barron, seeking his third PGA Tour Champions win, is finally rounding into shape after having surgery on each elbow in October. He knew the left one needed to be repaired, got it fixed and the right one went gimpy and required a minor surgery, too.

“It’s only my fifth tournament back after almost being out for a year,” Barron said. “I’m starting to play good. I played good last week the two rounds we got to play in Dallas and I played nice in Newport. I’m starting to get to practice again.”

Doug Barron chips to the 18th green during the first round of the Mitsubishi Classic senior golf tournament at TPC Sugarloaf, Friday, April 26, 2024, in Duluth, Ga. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Notes: There were two hole-in-ones at the 144-yard par-3 second hole -- David Bransdon, an Australian who earned his way through Q-School, and Ricardo Gonzalez, a native of Argentina and winner of the Trophy Hassan II event in February. … No. 17, the 455-yard par-4, was the hardest hole of the day, playing to a 4.385 scoring average. The easiest was the 608-yard par-5 that played to a 4.628 average. …

Maggie Kennedy, a Folds of Honor scholarship recipient, hit the ceremonial first tee shot. She was joined at the event by fellow recipient Alex Maddox of Griffin. Kennedy’s father was killed in Afghanistan and Maddox’s husband was a member of the Locust Grove Police Department and killed while assisting officers trying to serve a warrant. Folds of Honor has presented more than 52,000 scholarships to children of military and first responders who were killed in the line of duty.