U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Players Fail To Challenge Kite's Lead July 12, 2012 | Lake Orion, Mich. By Stuart Hall

Tom Lehman, watching as a putt slides by on the 15th hole, shot 4-under 66. (Fred Vuich/USGA)

The opportunity to post a low red number on the U.S. Senior Open leaderboard presented itself to Friday morning’s second-round groupings.

Few players, however, took advantage.

The beneficiary may be first-round leader Tom Kite, who teed off in the afternoon at Indianwood Golf & Country Club right where he left on Thursday – in the lead at five under par and with a chance to put some separation between himself and the field. 

As the afternoon groupings began teeing off in increasing heat and heavier winds, six players – Tom Lehman (4-under 66), John Huston (67), Roger Chapman (68), Dick Mast (68), Corey Pavin (69) and Bernhard Langer (70) – were in the clubhouse at 4-under-par 136.

While Jay Don Blake had the morning’s best round, a 5-under 65 that included a U.S. Senior Open record-tying five straight birdies during an outward-nine 29 to reach 2-under 138, Lehman led the charge of the closest contenders.

Lehman, who was frustrated by closing out a first-round 70 with consecutive bogeys, turned in a five-birdie round that was flawed only by a bogey on the 470-yard, par-4 18th hole.

"I didn't feel good about my game yesterday," said Lehman, who has tied for eighth, 12th and 23rd in the past three Senior Opens. "Didn't start out all that well today either, but kind of got into a groove and started hitting the ball much more solidly. Made a few putts. Kind of struggled a bit coming in the last couple, hit some lousy shots. But all in all, it was a good day."

Jeff Sluman, Lehman’s playing partner who shot 71 and is at 2-under 138, viewed Lehman’s round differently.

"He could have shot 62 or 63 easy," Sluman said. "He played that solid. If he plays like that the next two days, you can start the engraving [the Francis Ouimet Trophy].

"It was fun to watch him because he really just put the ball in the proper spot, drove it beautifully, just had his ball under control all day. And that's what it takes out here."

Indianwood, hosting its first USGA championship since the 1994 U.S. Women’s Open, is being lauded as a fair, but biting test that is being continually compared to a links-style course with, said Chapman, humps and hillocks and wispy grass and trees.

At points in their respective rounds, Fred Funk reached seven under par, Pavin six  under and Lehman and Mast five  under. But none could make the score stick. In the case of Funk, he played his final seven holes in five  over.

Pavin attributes the bunched leaderboard to the course.

"It's a hard golf course," he said. "I think typically or historically, what you see at USGA events and most major championships is you see fairly good scores the first round or second round, and then it starts getting more and more difficult. I'm not really sure exactly why, but maybe the course just plays harder and harder. It gets set up and gets a little firmer. Typically, that's what happens.

"The guy shoots four or five under the first round, and it's hard to follow it up again on a golf course like this.  If you shoot even or something like that, it's still a very good score. So it's hard to continue on that pace."

Barring Kite scorching Indianwood in the afternoon, Chapman, who won the Senior PGA Championship last month, said he would take a pair of 67s and take his chances on Sunday.

"With the severity of the course and the driving, I don't think anybody is really going to get away from us," he said.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.