EDMOND, Okla. – Mark Brooks finished 59th and tied for 60th in his first two starts in the U.S. Senior Open, but he looks intent on improving on that this week after opening with a 3-under-par 68 at Oak Tree National, good for third place alone behind Colin Montgomerie and Marco Dawson.
I scrambled really well, said Brooks, the 1996 PGA champion. [There was a lot] of scrambling, which everybody is going to have to do on this golf course.
Perhaps being in the state of Oklahoma will help, as he has played decently here before. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Brooks nearly won the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, losing in a playoff to Retief Goosen.
I’ve been playing here since high school. I’m comfortable here, said Brooks, 53. My mother and father both are Oklahomans. So I’ve got a lot of Oklahoma blood in me.
Brooks downplayed any hint of a home-course advantage, given his extensive experience at Oak Tree.
I played almost 30 Colonials [on the PGA Tour], which was my home course, and I rarely felt like I had any home-course advantage, said Brooks. I knew where all the bad places to go were and I know these guys have played here thousands of rounds but, you know, it's not necessarily – it’s almost nice to not know how bad it can be in some places here.
Verplank Struggles in Senior Debut
Scott Verplank's first round in the U.S. Senior Open was one he would just as soon forget. If he wants to stick around for the weekend, he'll need to forget it.
Playing on his home course the day after his 50th birthday, Verplank struggled for much of the afternoon in shooting a 4-over 75 that included a 50-foot birdie at the last hole. His round included three double bogeys and one bogey against three birdies, though two of the birdies were in the last five holes. One of his par saves, at the 15th, came after he topped his 3-wood tee shot, the ball traveling about 50 yards.
Yeah, it was fairly embarrassing, to be honest with you, said Verplank, who has struggled with his game since undergoing wrist surgery two years ago. Unfortunately, I have not reached back to the level that I used to be, and I could have shot 90 today. I actually putted great on my last nine holes and made a long one on the last hole. I'm going to have to be a lot different player tomorrow than I was today."
Black’s Strong Start Mitigated by Rust
Ronnie Black shook off some rust in the opening round – at least until it caught up to him.
A sectional qualifier out of Arizona, Black, 56, had not competed in a tournament since the end of 2013, when he finished 18th in Champions Tour Q-School and failed to regain his card. But through his first 10 holes on Thursday, Black converted four birdies and held the lead alone before giving them all back down the stretch. He posted even-par 71 – decent, but not the way he had hoped to complete his first competitive round in more than seven months.
Little disappointed with the finish, yeah, said Black, who prepared for the championship by playing 9 or 10 holes most days at the course where he works, Canoa Ranch in Green Valley, Ariz. My game is actually very good except for not having competed enough in the last several months. Other than that, I'm in pretty good shape. I putted very well today.
Indeed, he did, starting with a 30-footer for par at No. 3 that, he said, kind of got me going. He followed with a 25-footer on the next for birdie, made two short birdies on Nos. 5 and 6, and then saved par with a 20-footer at the seventh. When he birdied the 10th, he stood at 4 under par and in the lead.
But as the course firmed up, the birdies dried up. He bogeyed both par 5s on the inward nine and finished with bogeys at 17 and 18. I missed short putts on 17 and on 18. I misread both of them. I hit them both perfectly, said Black, who played the PGA Tour for two decades, winning twice in more than 500 starts.
The bogey on the par-5 12th, he said, was due to not playing competitively for some time. Rust struck when he became distracted over his third shot with a 6-iron and hit a poor shot. Somebody in the group ahead of me hit the pin on the par 3 as I was over my shot. I was thinking that must be a really good shot. Part of that, not having played that much," Black said. "I lost my focus and got out of my pre-shot routine a little bit and made a horrible swing.
Par-5 12thAnything But Easy
Birdies come at a premium on courses set up for any U.S. Open championship, so it is not uncommon for competitors to key in on the par 5s when looking to gain on the field. The par-5 12th hole at Oak Tree National, however, provided little in the way of circles on the scorecard during Thursday’s first round, playing as the sixth-toughest hole on the course with a scoring average of 5.33. While holes 7 and 14, the other two par 5s, yielded 32 and 34 birdies, respectively, the 576-yard 12th surrendered just 14, and, unlike its two brethren, did not allow any eagles. Its difficulty on Thursday was further demonstrated by the fact that first-round leader Colin Montgomerie, who seemed to be firing on all cylinders during a 6-under 65 in which he carded eight birdies, made bogey on the hole.
Amateur Jeff Wilson, who impressed during an opening-round 70, also made bogey on the 12th, and may have summed up the hole best.
No. 12 is just a hard hole. I mean, I don't think that's a scoring opportunity. He smiled. It's almost like a scoring un-opportunity.
Jay Haas, Murota, Kestner Withdraw
It was supposed to be a big week for Jay Haas at the U.S. Senior Open, returning to the site of his 2006 Senior PGA Championship victory and getting a chance to compete in the same event with his brother Jerry, who is 10 years his junior.
But the championship ended for Haas before it even started. Citing a bad back, Haas, a 16-time winner on the Champions Tour and nine-time PGA Tour winner, withdrew just minutes prior to his first round at Oak Tree National. "My back has been iffy for months but somehow it has held up," said Haas, 60.
Kiyoshi Murota also withdrew from the championship on Thursday, also citing a back injury. Korota, who was fully exempt as one of the top two finishers on the 2013 Japan Seniors Tour, shot a 7-over-par 78 in the first round before withdrawing. Murota was playing in his fourth Senior Open.
Darrell Kestner, of Glen Cove, N.Y., also withdrew on Thursday after being treated for a heat-related issue during his round. Kestner had played 14 holes and was 8 over par when he withdrew from the championship. Kestner was competing in his third Senior Open and first since 2008.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites. Scott Lipsky and Ron Driscoll of the USGA contributed.