OMAHA, Neb. – Mixing wind with an already hilly layout can sometimes be a difficult recipe for scoring.
Add the words U.S. Senior Open to the equation and the challenge gets ramped up.
Conditions at Omaha Country Club for Friday’s second round got brisk, and it showed up on the scoreboard.
Of the seven first-round leaders, four were in the morning wave and none of them managed to better par on the 6,621-yard layout.
Fred Funk, the 2009 champion who opened with a 3-under 67, shot an even-par 70 to take the early 36-hole clubhouse lead at 137, one stroke ahead of Tom Lehman and Mark O’Meara, both of whom shot 71 after carding 67s in Thursday’s opening round.
Three other first-round leaders – Kenny Perry, Jay Don Blake and Michael Allen – had afternoon starting times. Meanwhile, Gary Hallberg, who joined that Senior Open-record number of 18-hole leaders, fell back with a 74 on Friday morning (1-over 141).
Fan favorite Fred Couples, who has finished second in his last two senior major starts, shot a 1-under 69 on Friday and sits three strokes back at even-par 140. Defending champion Roger Chapman carded a 76 and was likely to miss the cut at 10-over 150.
Loren Roberts had the best round of the morning wave with a 67.
“It’s a factor for sure,” said Lehman of the swirling winds that were projected to gust as high as 25 mph. “I don’t think it’s blowing any differently now than it was when we started [this morning].”
Added O’Meara: “Wind is something that makes a golf course more testy, especially a U.S. [Senior] Open setup golf course.”
The USGA also hand-watered the greens on Thursday night as preventive maintenance. Even with the grounds staff double-cutting all the greens on Friday morning, they were rolling 10 feet, 6 inches on the USGA Stimpmeter, a little slower than in some of the practice rounds.
Players who had grown accustomed to faster greens were having trouble negotiating the proper speed.
On the par-5 sixth hole, Funk watched his birdie putt go off the green. He wound up three-putting for a bogey. It was only his third bogey in the first two rounds, but his second on a par-5.
“My only three‑putt of this week,” said Funk. “They're still soft on top. They have that soft cushion, and they're still pretty slow. They're trying to protect them. So it's hard to comprehend how hard you got to hit some of them.
“If you have an uphill putt … you just [have] to hit it. And then the downhill [putts], you’ve got to hit it harder than you think. You think it's downhill, it's [the] U.S. [Senior] Open, it should be quick. They look quicker than they are, and they’re not.”
Still, Funk, 57, was quite happy to be in position to win a second Senior Open and fourth senior major title. One of four players to finish second to Chapman in 2012, Funk finally feels healthy from the variety of ailments – feet, back, thumb and knee – that have kept him out of the winner’s circle in 2013.
“It's the best I've felt physically all year, and my game has showed up again,” said Funk, whose best finish in 2013 is a tie for sixth at the Allianz Championship in early February. “I was just kind of waiting for my body to allow me to swing again, and I was really anticipating good things when my back started releasing for me and I'm able to go after it a little bit.”
But Funk can’t get too comfortable. Not with the likes of Lehman, O’Meara, Couples and others firmly in the mix on a golf course that isn’t allowing anyone to separate from the pack.
Had it not been for a double-bogey 6 at the fourth hole, Lehman might be in the lead.
“Your basic U.S. Open double bogey,” said the 54-year-old Lehman. “Drove it in the rough … Just a series of bad shots.”
The 2010 Senior PGA champion recovered with birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 to get within one of the lead.
“I like my position,” he said. “I just don’t like the way I played. I need to figure a few things out.”
Looking at O’Meara, who was waiting to step to the interview podium, Lehman added: “If you watch me play and you watch Mark O’Meara play, you’d say O’Meara’s two under and Lehman’s 10 over. That’s the way it works.”
O’Meara, 56, saw his string of consecutive holes without a bogey end at 20 at the par-4 12th, his third of the round. He made another bogey at the par-5 14th before rallying with two birdies at 15 and 17 to turn in even-par 35. But O’Meara could not get anything going over his final nine holes, shooting a 1-over 36 with a bogey at the fourth.
“I hit the ball good enough the first two days to have a shot,” said O’Meara, the 1979 U.S. Amateur champion. “Let's put it that way. I've played enough golf tournaments to realize it's not easy to win.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.