Kohler, Wis. - Vicente Fernandez hasn't won on the Champions Tour since 2003, but he always seems to hang around in U.S. Senior Open championships. At least through the first round.
In 12 U.S. Senior Opens, Fernandez had been in the top 20 through the first round six times. With Thursday's first-round 69, Fernandez finds himself tied for second and three shots off of fellow Argentinian Eduardo Romero's lead.
"Lately I've been doing so many bogeys, so many birdies," said Fernandez after his 3-under 69. "After my second bogey today I told myself, 'Well, no more bogeys.' So that means no more mental mistakes. And it worked out."
In previous Opens, Fernandez has been in position after the first round but he has finished with mixed results. In 1997, he was in serious contention with a second-round 70, but had a poor weekend and fell to a T-32nd. In 1998 Fernandez went all out for four days. Yet even a final-round 68 could not catch Hale Irwin en route to a runner-up finish, the best result thus far in the championship.
His only other chance came in 2003 at Inverness Club. Fernandez posted a second-round 64 before executing above par on the weekend to finish third to Bruce Lietzke.
"So far it worked out," said Fernandez of his round Thursday. "And it's a good test. It leaves a good taste in my mouth and maybe tonight for dinner too."
Curtis Strange found himself in a, well, strange position through 11 holes in Thursday's first round. He was three under par thanks to an eagle on the 16th hole, his eighth of the day, marching toward not only leader Eduardo Romero (6-under 66), who was running away with the first round lead, but toward best opening round in his limited Senior Open experience.
|Until a late stumble, Curtis Strange, putting on No. 7 Thursday, had been near the top of the leaderboard. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
Then the floodgates were released. A double bogey and bogey over the remaining seven holes saw the 1988 and '89 U.S. Open champion fall back to even-par and six shots away from the top.
"I know the way I've been playing but I didn't know what expect," said Strange. "If you strike the ball good out here, I guess you could be a bit unlucky not to score well and some days you can get lucky and score well. But you never know."
Strange mentioned the word 'luck' in playing Whistling Straits. When pressed on it, Strange didn't like the word luck in determining who can win.
"Anybody that wins any week, he can always go back and say there was a turning point that could have gone the other way," Strange said.
"You're probably going to have more of those mental escapades than physical maybe. â€¦ Patience is very important this week. Because you're going to get absolutely tattooed a couple times. And other times you'll get a good bounce. So those good bounces you expect."
Strange will be looking for some good bounces in Friday's second round. Last time he shot even par in the first round of the Senior Open, which was 2005, he missed the cut.
Dave Thore is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open and after his first-round 71, he has a legitimate shot of playing into the weekend. Not only that, he's just five shots behind Romero.
It is an unfamiliar place for Thore, who played on the PGA Tour in the mid-1980s. At 53 years old, Thore has tried in the past to get into the Senior Open but has never made it through qualifying.
"Well, I've played in like four U.S. Opens, PGA, British, but I never made a cut or anything," said Thore, who now spends most of his time teaching golf in Reidsville, N.C. "I am pretty sure I can shoot 77 anywhere in the world."
Playing with Ben Crenshaw, Jay Haas and Curtis Strange, Thore got some helpful advice: they all told him to 'just keep your ball in front of you.' That advice and a new putting stroke has put Thore in the middle of the equation after round one.
"I had been playing OK, I just haven't been putting as well as I would like," said Thore, explaining why he switched to the claw putting stroke a couple of weeks ago. "I just took my right hand off of it a little bit and all of a sudden the putter started going back and I missed a couple today but I but putted beautiful other than that."
Alex Miceli is a writer for the Golf Press Association whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.