OMAHA, Neb. – Seven has been the operative number so far at the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club.
On Thursday, it was a record seven players sharing the first-round lead.
On Friday, it was a 7-under-par 63 posted by Michael Allen, one of those 18-hole front-runners, to grab a five-stroke advantage at the championship’s midway point. It’s the largest 36-hole margin in Senior Open history, surpassing the three-stroke lead held by four others. The 63 was one stroke off the championship’s 18-hole record, which Loren Roberts produced at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., seven years ago.
Allen’s two-round total of 130 (10 under) also shattered the 36-hole Senior Open mark of 133, held by eight players. His five-stroke lead is the largest in a senior major in 16 years, since Hale Irwin had a seven-shot lead in the 1997 Senior PGA Championship.
“Man oh man, you’re scaring me,” said Allen when he heard about all the records he shattered. “You’re putting the pressure on me. So I can blow the biggest lead? That’s not right.”
“He must have a fever or something,” said Rocco Mediate, who carded a bogey-free 67, of Allen’s performance. Mediate is five strokes back in solo second. “Michael Allen is a wonderful guy. Happy for him. I’ve been telling him the last few weeks, if I just stay anywhere around you, I’ll be good.”
Jeff Sluman, the 1988 PGA champion, is six shots back at 136 after a 67 on the 6,621-yard layout. Jeff Brehaut (68) and first-round co-leader Fred Funk (70) share fourth at 3-under 137. British Open champions Tom Lehman (71) and Mark O’Meara (71), who also were part of the first-round logjam, are eight strokes back.
The cut came at 5-over 145 with 63 professionals and one amateur qualifying for the final 36 holes.
On a breezy and hot day, Allen started running away from the field on Omaha Country Club’s outward nine, shooting a 5-under 30 to match the lowest nine-hole score of the championship (John Riegger also shot 30 on Friday).
Even a bogey at the par-4 12th hole didn’t slow down Allen’s momentum. He stuffed his approach at No. 13 to 2 feet for a birdie, then rolled in a 60-footer for eagle on the par-5 14th that hit the center of the hole and hopped in the air before falling. He closed with four pars.
Allen, 54, accomplished his feat with a sore neck.
“This guy, Keith Unger, really helped me this morning so I could play,” said Allen, the 2009 Senior PGA champion. “I didn’t really know him, but this morning I was really hurt. I worked with him … in Pittsburgh [at the Senior Players Championship].
“He gave me acupuncture and kind of did a lot of different things. I don’t know if it’s magic or something, but it kind of worked today.”
The rest of the field might feel like Allen punctured their hopes, especially if he continues this torrid pace. Will he run and hide or come back to the field?
“I can only hope he doesn’t shoot another 10 under for the next two days because that would be very hard to catch,” said Duffy Waldorf, who is nine strokes back. “It’s definitely a dangerous combination in the U.S. [Senior] Open. They don’t set it up so you can shoot 63 every day. In some regards, it’s good because … if you do post a low round, you can make a move.”
Mediate will join Allen in Saturday’s final third-round pairing. The 2008 U.S. Open runner-up was on pace to shoot a similar score when he made consecutive birdies at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 en route to a 3-under 32 on the outward nine. He also missed a short birdie putt at the fifth and took three shots from the fringe at the par-5 sixth to squander another opportunity.
On the second nine, Mediate scrambled to make pars to keep his momentum going into the weekend.
“It’s cool to play in the last group of a major championship,” said Mediate, who is eyeing his first major on either tour. “It doesn’t happen all the time. Plus, Michael and I are good buddies. We’ll laugh our butts off pretty much most of the day.”
Sluman, whose 1988 PGA title is his lone major victory, isn’t too concerned about his six-shot deficit. At this point of the championship, he knows his focus can’t be on Allen or any of the other pursuers.
The 55-year-old, who is paired with Funk, planned to hit some balls and relax in preparation for the weekend.
“We’ve been at it so long that you don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” said Sluman. “Hopefully at the end of the day, we can make some ground up on him.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.