Kohler, Wis. - Could this be the year of the Argentinian golfer?
If early returns from the first round of the U.S. Senior Open are any indication, it just may be.
After watching his protégé win the U.S. Open a few weeks ago, Eduardo Romero made an early bid to put his stamp on the U.S. Senior Open title Thursday.
The 52-year-old Argentinian reaped the benefits of a sizzling putter on the The Straits Course at Whistling Straits to carve out a nifty 6-under-par 66. His six-under-par round was one shy of the U.S. Senior Open record for lowest score under par in a first round (Craig Stadler, 2005; R.W. Eaks 2002; and Bruce Fleisher 2000). Save for a three-putt bogey on the par-3 seventh hole, his round was unblemished.
|Eduardo Romero celebrates after sinking his 50-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole Thursday. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
Vicente Fernandez, Jon Fiedler and Ron Vlosich, playing in his first Senior Open, were in the hunt with 69s. "When I saw him early on three under, I thought he could do it," said Fernandez of Romero's score.
A bogey on the 18
thdropped Vlosich back from four under par, while Fiedler, who qualified for the event, needed only 26 putts. "If you told me I was going to shoot 69, I would say forget it [with] the way I'm hitting the ball right now," said Fiedler.
Fernandez ended his round on a strong note, saving par on his final hole after leaving his approach short of the green. After his second bogey, Fernandez swore there'd be no more. "It leaves a good taste in my mouth and maybe tonight for dinner too," said Fernandez.
An influx of red numbers flooded the scoreboard during the morning session. Five players came in at one under par. Much of it could be attributed to tranquil conditions on the 6,928-yard, Pete Dye design, which opened in 1998. The layout abuts Lake Michigan and, often times, invites howling winds. If gusts are prevalent, the course turns into target golf, according to Jay Haas (1-over 73) after his round. The wind did pick up in the early afternoon, though, which affected scores. That was before the storms came at 5:05 p.m. CDT, forcing play to be called one-hour, 10 minutes later.
Twenty-six groups (78 players), or half the field, were still on the course when the horn sounded. Only one group had made as far as the 17th hole. Play will resume at 7 a.m. Friday with the second round beginning at 8 a.m. At the time of the suspension, 14 players in the afternoon session were under par, led by four players (Gil Morgan, Loren Roberts, Bruce Vaughan and Jim Woodward) who were three under.
The score that mattered most, Romero's, could be traced to the 500 balls he hit after his practice round Wednesday. It helped him fix a couple of minor things in his swing, providing confidence. Maybe more important, he had poise with his putter.
Romero took just 28 putts that translated to five birdies and one eagle. The latter came from just off the green on the par-5 16
th, where Romero finessed a 50-footer after blistering his 5-iron approach just in front of the green.
"It was a lucky putt," said Romero smiling, who has one senior major under his belt, that being the 2006 JELD-WEN Tradition. "It's history."
"He was around the hole all day," said Haas, who played in Romero's group.
Romero knocked in another, barely on the green by a hair, from 10 feet on No. 6 to go as low as seven under. But he gave it back with the bogey on the next hole.
Known as 'El Gato' (The Cat) for his stealthy way of overtaking opponents, Romero calls Angel Cabrera, who won this year's U.S. Open, a close friend. They live five blocks away from one another in their hometown of Cordoba. More interesting, Romero bankrolled the early portion of Angel Cabrera's European PGA Tour, in 1991 to be exact, before he gained traction as a solid player.
Before Romero left Argentina for this event, Cabrera gave Romero advice.
"After the win by Angel Cabrera, he say to me, 'If you go there, try to win the tournament," said Romero. "Because two U.S. Opens in one month is fantastic.' And I say, 'Angel, I know it's hard but I try my best.'
"I feel good right now. But I tell you, it's a long way to go."
Romero said the two play a lot of golf together, but with tongue in cheek claimed he was "still better, yeah," than Cabrera.
In 1980 Argentinian Roberto De Vicenzo won the inaugural U.S. Senior Open in 1980. Romero, who said he worships the 83-year-old legend, would love nothing more than to follow in his footsteps.
"I come here to win this tournament," said Romero. "I prepared for this."
So what is it about Argentinians and golf? Why the success this year? Fernandez, just the second Argentinian to play on the senior circuit after De Vicenzo, believes much of it has to do with an upcoming generation that absorbs information like a sponge.
"I think that thanks to the success of some of the Argentinians that they were playing on other tours," said Fernandez. "And they get a different approach from that, not only physically but also mentally."
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.