Toledo, Ohio – Russ Cochran couldn’t pull off the major double that Bernhard Langer won last year when he captured the U.S. Senior Open the week after claiming victory in the Senior British Open, but the left-hander from Paducah, Ky., still had his own highlight at Inverness Club.
Cochran, 52, closed with a 2-under 69 that included five birdies in a row on his outward nine. Loren Roberts was the last to accomplish the feat, in the final round of the 2009 championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. Dale Douglass, Isao Aoki and Bill Brask are the others who also have put together such a streak.
Cochran birdied holes 4-8, highlighted by a chip-in from 40 feet at the par-4 fifth hole and a pitching wedge that he knocked to within 1 foot at the par-5 eighth.
“I thought it was just going to be kind of a boring round,” quipped Cochran, 52, who rallied past Mark Calcavecchia one week earlier to win the Senior British Open at Walton Heath. “I'd had good chances coming in there on 2 and 3 and hit weak putts. Then on 4, just kind of two‑putting that thing, and then the chip‑in on 5 got me started. I was looking for anything to get me going … trying to find something to catch a little bit of life there.”
Cochran’s run ended when he bogeyed the ninth. He birdied No. 10 only to give back three more shots down the stretch. He admitted that fatigue and the distractions that went with his victory a week earlier in England probably kept him from contending this week. Cochran ended up at 3-under 281.
“I think I could have done it if I hadn't ended up winning the tournament last week. It just carries over into this week,” he said. “It gave me great insight to what Bernhard did last year, and how tough a thing it is to do, obviously.
“I'm usually great at dismissing a tournament and getting right into another tournament. But with family and friends and not speaking with them that much, you know, with the phone situation over in England, when I came back to the States, it seemed like it ran into three or four days. I was still answering questions on Thursday when I was getting ready to play; very tough thing to do.”
One day after Hal Sutton hinted that Inverness Club would be an ideal venue for a Ryder Cup, John Huston gave the course his endorsement for a return visit by the USGA.
"I think it's a great place to come to and probably be a great place to come back to," said Huston, who recorded a final-round 2-under 69 and finished at 7-under 277.
Inverness Club officials have extended an invitation to the USGA in hopes of landing the 2020 U.S. Open on the club's 100th anniversary. USGA President Jim Hyler said earlier this week that "adhering to a long-standing policy at the USGA, we really don't comment any further than that," he said. U.S. Open venues have been announced through 2019.
Steve Pate, who played here in the 1986 and 1993 PGA Championships, also is a fan of the Donald Ross-designed course, but would not mind coming back for other reasons.
"I think two double dogs down at Packo's were a big help today," said Pate who closed with a 3-under 68 and finished at 7-under 277.
Packo's is a longtime local Hungarian eatery noted for its chili hot dogs.
Corey Pavin, the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, is not as convinced as Sutton, the 2004 Ryder Cup captain, about the prospects of a major or international match being played at Inverness.
“I think it would be tricky,” he said. “I think I'm all for playing courses that are not 7,500 yards. I think if they can add a little bit of length here and there, not a lot but just a little bit, I think it could. Length is certainly not the answer to making golf courses harder, it's certainly not the only answer.”
Pavin also said that the course did not show its true bite due to rains that softened the greens and rough that “wasn't the old standard of U.S. Open-type rough.”
“It definitely could have been more penal off the fairways and you would have seen higher scores,” Pavin said.
In the 2003 U.S. Senior Open, the par-71 course played to a stroke average of 76.336. This year, the course played to a 73.212 stroke average, just over three strokes easier than eight years ago.
Tim Jackson has known for two days that he would finish as the low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open for the third consecutive year, given that he was the only amateur to make the cut. But after a 2-under 69 Saturday, he ran out of gas.
“I would have liked to have played better today, but I had nothing going for me,” said Jackson, 52, of Germantown, Tenn., who shot a 4-over 75 Sunday and finished tied for 50th at 288. “As usual, it's just a great experience to get to play this type of a championship and to be low amateur again. It just never gets old.”
Jackson, who had the first- and second-round lead at the 2009 championship at Crooked Stick before finishing joint 11th, once again earned an exemption into the U.S. Amateur, which this year will be held at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis.
“I haven’t seen it, but I understand that it’s somewhat similar to what we saw last year [at Chambers Bay, near Tacoma, Wash.], and that was a good test of golf,” Jackson said. “I enjoy the challenge, playing against all those younger guys. I just hope my game holds up.”
Another U.S. Senior Open, another record for 66-year-old Hale Irwin.
A closing 3-under 68 at Inverness Club gave Irwin a 10-under 274 total, tied for fourth place with Joey Sindelar. The two-time U.S. Senior Open winner recorded his first top-10 in the championship since he finished second in 2004. It was the 204th top-10 in his Champions Tour career, breaking the record he shared with Bob Charles. Irwin had three rounds in the 60s at Inverness to extend his record for most scores in the 60s in U.S. Senior Open history, with 19. Jack Nicklaus (17), Dave Stockton (14) and Allen Doyle (13) trail Irwin, who broke the tie with Nicklaus on Thursday with a 69.
Irwin was happy with his return to Inverness, having won the 1979 U.S. Open here.
“This was a special week, there's no doubt this was a special week, and no doubt there was more internal combustion for this week, there was a fire in the belly to play well this week,” Irwin said.
Thumb Holds Up
Playing just his fourth tournament since undergoing surgery on his left thumb, Bernhard Langer admittedly wasn’t in top form this week to defend his U.S. Senior Open title. Nevertheless, he shot four rounds under par and ended up tied for ninth with a closing 70 and 7-under 277 total.
“It [his game] was lacking a little bit in all areas,” said Langer, 53. “My ball‑striking wasn't quite good enough, my short game wasn't quite there, and my putting wasn't quite there, so it's just 10 percent everywhere, and all of a sudden you lose six to 10 shots.”
There was good news: his thumb held up. “It didn't get any worse. It didn't get better, but I played three weeks in a row, which is a lot of golf, three majors, and it didn't get any worse, so that's encouraging for me. But it still needs to improve.”