|Fred Funk played bogey-free golf until the 18th hole. (John Mummert/USGA)
Colorado Springs, Colo. — Do not tell Fred Funk that walking the 7,524-yard Broadmoor East Course is either trying or tiresome.
Tuesday night, Funk and his family went over to nearby Seven Falls, and climbed more than 400 steep steps to observe the splashing falls that emerge from the granite cliffs.
"My legs were killing me," said Funk. "And that was probably a big example of stupidity. But it was really pretty that night."
Thursday afternoon, Funk worked through the soreness and crafted his own site to behold, a 5-under 65 that makes him the first-round leader at the 29th U.S. Senior Open.
"I'm real pleased," said Funk, who tied for 11th in his only other U.S. Senior Open appearance in 2006. "It actually could have been … I hate to say it, it could have been a lot lower. I think I could have shot a 61 or 62 out there today. I had enough opportunities to do that."
Funk leads by a shot over John Cook, who went out in the morning wave and posted a 4-under 66 that held up until early evening. Morris Hatalsky, Eduardo Romero, Juan Quiros and Tom Kite are tied for third at 3-under 67.
All totaled, 14 players posted under-par scores on a day when the field scoring average was 75.083 — the highest U.S. Senior Open first round average relation to par since 2003 at Inverness Country Club. And that makes Funk’s round even more impressive.
"No, I think the golf course played the way [the U.S. Golf Association] wanted it to play," Funk said. "I didn't think it was really there for the taking. The weather obviously was outstanding today. Middle of the back nine, the wind started picking up for us, and it got a little trickier."
Funk made his hay early, tying Cook early at 4-under with birdies at Nos. 2 and 4 sandwiched around an eagle at the 601-yard, par-5 third hole. At the 339-yard, par-4 second, he hit a sand wedge approach to 6 inches and tapped in for birdie. On the third, he hit a 3-wood second shot to the front of the green and watched it roll to 30 feet flagstick-high and made the putt. Funk capped the stretch by hitting an 8-iron to 30 feet at the 172-yard, par-3 fourth and made another bomb.
"Yeah, that's a dream start obviously," he said. "The problem with that is you don't want to get ahead of yourself and think that you're going to have this great round.
"There's a lot of golf left, especially the back nine here, and then the wind kicked up a little bit, and I had to stay focused and just try not to think of results and just go out there and go through the process and try to hit good shot after good shot and go to the next hole."
Funk strung together 11 straight pars, before hitting a 9-iron to within 6 inches at the 173-yard par-3 16th and took the outright lead with the birdie. He followed that up with another birdie at the par-4 17th and closed with his only blemish - a bogey at the par-4 18th.
"I think this is the kind of golf course if you're playing really well, it rewards you; and if you're not, it's going to get you," said Funk, who won the MasterCard at Hualalai to open the 2008 Champions Tour season.
For most of the day Cook was the clubhouse leader. His early 66 was just the salve he needed after Sunday’s playoff loss at the Senior British Open.
"I didn't like the way it finished last week at all," said Cook, who let a three-shot lead through 64 holes and a one-shot lead through 71 holes slip away, and then lost on the first sudden death playoff hole to Bruce Vaughan. "Second is not good.
"This week, had a nice practice round, and once I decided that this week has started now and it's a different week, different tournament, another major championship, you know, I can put that last week behind me until I get home next week."
Cook put it behind him very quickly, hitting a 6-iron approach at the 501-yard, par-4 10th — his first hole — to within 6 inches and making birdie. Cook then made the rest of the round very manageable by hitting all 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation.
"A USGA championship, there's no mystery to what you have to do and that's put the ball in play," Cook said. "I struck the ball nicely."
While the leaderboard is cluttered with the usual big names like Funk, Cook, Kite, Andy Bean (69) and Tom Watson (69), elbowing his way into the mix was 51-year-old amateur Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill, S.C., who shot 2-under 68 and tied a U.S. Senior Open record for lowest score by an amateur. He shares the record with three others, the last being Jim Patti in the second round at Oakland Hills Country Club in 1991.
"Just a great day," he said. "Just ticked to death with the way I played. And I had maybe three or four other birdie opportunities within 8 feet. I missed just one fairway, and was on the OK side of the pin most of the day."
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.