||Tom Kite shot 8-over 152 in his two rounds. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. – Bruce Lietzke nearly won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club, eventually finishing second to the then unknown John Daly, but he doesn't remember feeling as much pressure as he encountered late Friday afternoon as the second round of the U.S. Senior Open was winding down.
Lietzke, the 2003 U.S. Senior Open champion, gutted out a 2-under-par 34 on the tough inward nine at Crooked Stick for a 72, and made the cut of three over par on the number in the 30th Senior Open. The lanky Texan preserved his streak of advancing to the weekend, making it for the seventh time in as many starts.
"It was on me all the way in, but I played very solid on the closing holes," said Lietzke, 58. "I was just one swing away from getting down the road. That's not a good feeling, but that's the way it is out here a lot of times."
Winless since his Senior Open triumph at Inverness Club in Toledo, Lietzke put himself back in the mix when he scored back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th. The first he secured with a two-putt from 30 feet after knocking it on the par-5 green in two with a 3-wood. The second came with a pitching wedge to 22 feet.
He played steadily in from there, though the 18th was a bit harrowing. He drove into the left rough, away from the water hazard, and gouged a 6-iron to the back of the green. He got down in two from there, the second a knee-knocker from 4 feet.
"Down the stretch, I was feeling the nerves on every shot," Lietzke said.
A 17-time PGA Tour winner, Lietzke has had a chance to relive some vivid memories this week. He played alongside Daly during the third round of the '91 PGA, and he eventually finished at 9-under 279, three behind the upstart Daly, who got into the field as the ninth alternate.
"I've got history here. I shot nine under here once with heavier rough and tougher conditions," Lietzke said. "I've still got some good rounds in me. I've got a ghost around here somewhere – the ghost of Bruce Lietzke past, and if I could draw on him and get in his company, then maybe I can do something this weekend."
Lietzke wasn't the only former Senior Open champion who had to gut out a finish. Bruce Fleischer, the 2001 champion, carded a 73 with a bogey at the par-4 home hole, but still made the cut on the number at 3-over 147. The 3-over cut tied the 2005 U.S. Senior Open at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio, in relation to par.
Two-time winner Allen Doyle wasn't as lucky. He followed an opening 70 with a 6-over 78 and missed the cut by one stroke. Other former winners of this championship who got sent down the road included Dale Douglass, Dave Stockton, Larry Laoretti, Dave Eichelberger and Peter Jacobsen.
Several former U.S. Open winners won't be around for the weekend, either. The biggest absence from a spectator standpoint will be from Indiana native Fuzzy Zoeller, who is an honorary member at Crooked Stick. Zoeller, the 1984 U.S. Open champion, followed up a 78 with a 3-over 75 to finish with a 153 aggregate total.
"That's the way golf is," Zoeller, 57, said. "You run into these spurts where you can't put it on the clubface. I may have left it at the house. It's only a hundred miles away."
He wasn't happy with his game, but he enjoyed the atmosphere. "The crowds were great. The roars out there … to be honest with you, we haven't heard that on the Champions Tour in some time. That part was fun."
Also departing was 1992 U.S. Open winner Tom Kite after 74-152 and 1975 champion Jerry Pate, who shot 73-148 and missed by one shot. Larry Nelson, who won the '83 U.S. Open title, bogeyed his penultimate hole of the second round, carded a 78, and like Doyle missed the cut by one stroke.
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and former PGA winner Lanny Wadkins were other well-known names heading home early.
Kenny Knox, who finished fourth in the '91 PGA and played with Daly in the final group, shot a pair of 77s for 154 -- 14 strokes higher than his opening two scores from 18 years ago.
Sixty-two players qualified for the weekend, including three amateurs. Tim Jackson was the leader there, but then, he leads the championship with a scintillating 11-under-par 133 total. He will be joined for two more rounds by Bryan Norton and Bert Atkinson.
Norton, 50, of Mission Hills, Kan., shot identical 73s for a 146 total, while Atkinson made his second cut in as many U.S. Senior Open appearances after shooting 75-147 that was just good enough.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.