Jay Don Blake tied a U.S. Senior Open record Friday when he birdied five holes in a row to close the outward nine of his second round.
Funny thing was, he didn’t know he’d tied a record. In fact, he didn’t realize that he’d converted five birdies in a row.
"Those things kind of happen. You kind of get going, and you don't think much," Blake said of the streak that helped him get back into the championship. "You just go do it, get it done, and add them up at the end. I had it pretty good today."
Indeed, Blake, who is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, ended up shooting a 5-under-par 65, the low round of the day at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, and he completed 36 holes in 3-under 137, within three strokes of the lead.
Blake, who was three under early in his first round before faltering to a 73, opened his second round with consecutive birdies before he bogeyed the par-3 third.
His birdie binge began on the par-3 fifth with a 7-iron to 3 feet. Then he knocked in a 30-footer followed by a wedge to 8 feet that he converted for his third in a row. Two more wedge shots, to 1 and 8 feet, respectively, finished off an outward 6-under 29, one off Tom Kite’s 7-under 28 from a day earlier, which set a USGA record for lowest nine in any championship.
The sixth player to convert five straight birdies in the U.S. Senior Open, Blake, 53, of St. George, Utah, admitted that he did ponder his performance briefly on the second nine.
"I know at one time, when I realized I did shoot 29 on the front and got thinking, ‘Well, if you make four birdies, you can get to 60. And five, you know.’ You think of that stuff," he said. "But that's a pretty impressive round of golf out here to try to even think of going that low."
Blake joins Russ Cochran, Dale Douglass, Isao Aoki, Bill Brask and Loren Roberts in making five straight birdies. Cochran was the most recent, going on a tear on holes 4-8 in the final round of last year’s championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Making the cut at the U.S. Senior Open was no longer a concern for Jeff Sluman after a 1-over 71 had him in contention at 2-under-par 138. Nor was he overly concerned with Indianwood’s increasing difficulty.
What had him wondering if he could get to the weekend was a pain in the upper left portion of his back.
"Frankly, I was just happy to play," he said. "My back is in pretty bad shape. Not hitting a shot after today's round and it started really spasming up.
"I was somewhat surprised I was able to make 18 holes, and I'll be surprised when I make 18 tomorrow, the way I feel right now. But that's the way it goes."
Sluman, who has been advised he cannot do more damage to the back, is unsure as to the exact issue other than that it arose this week.
"Maybe all the travel back and forth," said Sluman, who has played the last six tournaments on the Champions Tour, in Benton Harbor, Mich.; West Des Moines, Iowa; Shoal Creek, Ala.; Montreal; Pittsburgh; and Pebble Beach, Calif. Then toss in a side trip to Barrington, R.I., for Brad Faxon’s and Billy Andrade’s two-day charity event.
"It felt pretty good for the first 10, 12 holes. Then I just got fatigued and tired, and started getting a little dodgy out there. Hopefully tomorrow I can get loose and make it through the day."
Funk Falls Off
Fred Funk was the first player to reach seven under par in the U.S. Senior Open Friday when he birdied the par-4 second hole, his 11th of the second round.
But as can happen in a USGA championship, a good round is often difficult to sustain.
Funk, 56, got a taste of that down the stretch. He hit a shot out of bounds, started missing greens, and the results were costly, as he fell off the leaderboard by playing his final seven holes in five over par.
"Pitiful. I had a seven under and just self‑destructed coming in," said Funk, who won the 2009 U.S. Senior Open with a record 20-under-par 268 at Crooked Stick Golf Club near Indianapolis. "It was just the worst stretch of golf I had in the last seven holes. So it is what it is.
"I hit a 3-iron out of bounds on the worst shot I think I've ever hit in competition on [No.] 9. Just kept going one shot after another. Just was terrible. Nothing really good to say. Played great and then played awful.
"I can't figure out why my swing is really good and then all of a sudden it just self‑destructs for a while. That's just not like me."
Back Woes Derail Couples
The Old Course at Indianwood has been able to bite back when players start going low. On Friday, Fred Couples made a run, only to have his bad back slow him down yet again.
Couples rebounded from an opening 72 with a 2-under 68 in the second round of the U.S. Senior Open, but the 1992 Masters champion didn't reach his goal of posting a 36-hole total under par and getting closer to the leaders.
"I needed to finish up a couple under, and I didn't," Couples said. "I don't feel great. So to be 4 under for a while was good. I got the most out of my round."
Couples admitted that swinging was difficult on iron shots. "I tried to figure it out," he said. "Anything on a tee or a little longer ... the way I'm hitting it, yeah, it's OK. But when I bend over, it's painful."