||Loren Roberts was among the leaders Thursday, sharing a T-4 with four others after the morning wave. (John Mummert/USGA)
Indeed, with the course softened a bit by rain the previous two days and the wind nothing more than a whisper, the game's best players on the senior circuit found birdies plentiful.
Leading the charge of accomplished players was Greg Norman, one of the game's most recognizable figures. He made seven birdies in a round of 66 to tie for the lead at 6-under-par 66 with former PGA Tour winners Joey Sindelar and Dan Forsman.
In pursuit were five players who owned at least one major on either the regular tour or Champions Tour.
Loren Roberts, winner of last week's Senior British Open, carded a 68, tied with former British Open champion Tom Lehman, 2008 Senior British winner Bruce Vaughn, and 2007 U.S. Senior Open champion Brad Bryant.
Another shot back after a 69 was former PGA champion Jeff Sluman.
"There's a lot of star power up there for sure," said Dana Quigley, who has nevermissed the cut in the U.S. Senior Open and has played in his share of Champions Tour, among the all-time leaders in starts. "When you get to these events, where guys are pointing toward getting their games ready, you can bet you're going to see some familiar names up top, guys who are used to being in the hunt, who expect to be there, no matter how much or how little they have played."
That's certainly the case with Norman, who is playing his third straight event. So is Lehman, who made the cut at both the British Open and Senior British before coming back to the States.
"It seems like a lot of guys that are great names are really playing great," said Bryant, who commended the U.S. Golf Association on the setup of the longest course in U.S. Senior Open history. "When great players play great on a great golf course, they shoot good scores. I think today was a great example of that."
Jay Haas, who played alongside Norman and was among a large group of players at two under par, wasn't surprised by what the Shark accomplished. "It looked all day like he was going to shoot 66 … or even better," he said.
He expected other name players to rise to the occasion if the winds stayed calm. "These scoring conditions could not be any better," said Haas, who three-putted the final two holes to slip back a few places. "I made six birdies, and you probably don't see that at many U.S. Open tournaments.
"The course is there to be had, and good players are taking advantage, which is something you expect them to do."
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.