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By the time Paul Broadhurst curled in a birdie putt on his final hole Friday, most of the throng had already departed University Ridge Golf Course.

And a good many of his fellow competitors in the American Family Insurance Championship likewise had headed out, preparing for the Darius Rucker concert at Breese Stevens Field.

Presumably, most of the interested parties eventually will learn that Broadhurst, an Englishman who was PGA Tour Champions Rookie of the Year last year, had put together four birdies and an eagle as he finished his back nine to shoot a 9-under 63 and take a two-stroke lead over Brian Henninger.

While a sizable percentage of the nearly 15,000 spectators on hand followed the high-profile groups featuring local icons Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly and golf legends such as Fred Couples and Nick Faldo, Broadhurst and his group that included Duffy Waldorf and Joe Durant played in relative privacy most of the day.

“We had a couple of wives,” Broadhurst said. “Joe’s wife was with us and my wife was walking. And the scorer and that was about it, so it was quite relaxed, quite casual. I’m sure it will be different tomorrow.”

Things will be a lot different for Broadhurst today as he plays in the final group along with Stricker and Henninger.

If nothing else, it will provide a good opportunity to meet Stricker, the tournament host.

“I honestly don’t know him,” said Broadhurst, who won twice last year, including the Senior Open at Carnoustie in Scotland. “I said hello on the putting green this morning. I’ve never really met him. You know, he’s a local favorite I’m sure with the galleries, but I’ll give it my best shot.”

Broadhurst, who started the day on No. 10, birdied three of his first five holes. But he really turned it on when he came around to the front nine, where he birdied No. 1 and eagled No. 2 and finished with birdies on three of the last four holes.

The first-round 63 was the best of Broadhurst’s Champions Tour career, a turn of events that caught him a little off-guard.

“It wasn’t expected,” said Broadhurst, who finished outside the top 25 in each of his previous five events. “I can’t say I came into this with any great form. I’ve been playing OK. The putter’s been letting me down.

“It’s playing difficult around the front side in the wind. I hit some really good iron shots in. For once, the putter behaved itself today.”

Until Broadhurst made his late-day charge, it appeared that Henninger would have the first-round lead after putting together his best round of the season with a 65. Not bad for someone who wasn’t even in the tournament field until Monday, when he received a sponsor’s exemption after Mark Wiebe withdrew.

“I bugged the tournament director, Nate (Pokrass) for a couple weeks,” Henninger said. “I knew I might be close but I didn’t find out until Monday. So I was really excited and made my plane reservation and flew over here.

“I’ve been playing pretty well lately, so I felt pretty confident. But you never know, golf is kind of elusive. So I never know what I’m going to find when I get to the first tee.”

Henninger got going early with an eagle on No. 2 and he added six birdies, with the only blemish on his round being a bogey 6 on No. 9.

That was enough to give him a one-shot edge on Stricker, Kenny Perry and Billy Andrade, who were tied for third at 6-under 66. The leaderboard is bunched from there with seven players, including Couples and Corey Pavin, at 5-under and seven more at 4-under, including Kelly. Defending champion Kirk Triplett was among 11 players at 3-under.

The overnight rainstorms left the course soft, allowing the players to lift, clean and place balls in the fairway. That contributed to low scoring as 60 of the 78 players finished at par or better.

Broadhurst’s 63 matched last year’s top opening-round score by Gene Sauers and Esteban Toledo. Sauers finished in a tie for fourth while Toledo ended up 44th.

The lead hasn’t necessarily been a good place to be this season, as Bernhard Langer has been the only player to convert a first-round lead into a victory, a feat he has accomplished twice.

“In the lead, fantastic,” Broadhurst said. “But there’s a long way to go, a long weekend.”

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Dennis Punzel covers Wisconsin Badgers volleyball, women's basketball for the Wisconsin State Journal.