Toledo, Ohio – Olin Browne will take his 7-under-par 64 and two-shot lead in the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open for what it represents — one round.
There's lots of golf left, said Browne, 52. I'm not going to get all caught up in the hoopla today. A really nice round of golf; tomorrow's a whole new day.
Browne did create some excitement with eagles at the 513-yard, par-5 fourth and the 564-yard, par-5 eighth hole. That helped separate Browne from a leaderboard that was bunched throughout the day at Inverness Club.
Browne’s 64 tied the lowest opening round in the 32-year history of the U.S. Senior Open, joining Bruce Fleisher in 2000, R.W. Eaks in 2002 and Craig Stadler in 2005. At the U.S. Senior Open here in 2003, Vicente Fernandez and eventual champion Bruce Lietzke posted 64s during the week.
The score also came on a day when red numbers were abundant. Thirty-five players shot under par, while another 11 were at even par.
For most of the muggy afternoon, two-time major champion Mark O’Meara and 2009 Senior PGA champion Michael Allen shared the lead after shooting 5-under 66 in the morning wave. One shot back at 4-under 67 are 1996 U.S. Open champion Steve Jones, Mark Wiebe and Damon Green, who normally loops for Zach Johnson on the PGA Tour.
Recent Senior British Open champion Russ Cochran and reigning U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer posted 1-under-par 70s. Also, Lietzke withdrew after 13 holes due to a shoulder injury. He was 8 over.
I just think we always start out this way, said Jim Thorpe, who shot a 3-under 68, of U.S. Senior Open conditions. But the golf course has a way of catching up with you. If the greens roll at this speed and receive the shots the way they are, then you'll see the scores stand the way they are. But if the wind blows and the greens firm up, they've got a way of putting those pins in position where you can't get it close on some of these greens.
That is one reason why Browne is keeping it even keel.
Everybody is figuring I had a pretty hot round, said Browne, who opened his 2011 Champions Tour season with five top-10 finishes, but has finished no better than 13th in his last nine starts. What I did was I played pretty steady golf and I made two eagles on par‑5s, so it's not just how you do it but when you do it that matters.
To Browne’s credit, he played the difficult inward nine in 1-under 33. For the round, the nine played to a stroke average of 36.204 and featured seven of the nine toughest holes. After a birdie on the 164-yard, par-3 third, Browne made the first of his two eagles.
Hit a good tee shot and had 216 to the pin, uphill a little bit, crosswind, hit a 3 hybrid about 5 or 6 feet, made that putt, said Browne, who birdied the par-4 sixth to set up his eagle at the eighth.
I was debating actually whether I should lay up off the tee [on No. 8] because I wanted to take the bunkers out of play, but you're really forced to take it past the bunkers and around the corner, otherwise you don't have a good lay‑up.
After laying up with a 4-iron on his second shot, Browne holed out from 97 yards. All in a day’s work, right?
That's not going to happen every day, is it? So you take away the two threes there, and it's a very comfortable three under par day, said Browne, who tied for 10th in his first U.S. Senior Open in 2009 and tied for third last year. So I just happened to get the right holes at the right time today, and when that kind of thing happens, the dominos fall into place and you post a great number.
Thursday morning, O’Meara and Allen took advantage of soft course conditions. O’Meara’s may have been the more impressive 67 if only because he did not arrive in Toledo until late Wednesday afternoon. And that was after playing the Open and Senior Open championships in the U.K. and then spending a couple of days home in Houston.
Listen, at this stage of my life, I'm not going to play two-and-a-half to three practice rounds anymore. I've done that, said O’Meara, 54, who played in the 1986 and 1993 PGA Championships contested at Inverness Club. It's a very straightforward golf course. With the USGA, you know what you're going to have to do.
Hit fairways, be accurate with irons and putt well.
I like the shots you've got to play, said Allen, 52, who won his Senior PGA Championship across the state at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland. So I think it sets up to me as far as something I enjoy playing.
I know there are going to be some terrible spots to hit it at times, but I also feel like if you miss it in the right place you can kind of play around here pretty well. I know years ago when I played here I didn't do that well at the PGA, but right now I think the course is just setting up beautifully, and I do like playing here.
Allen might be wise to follow Browne’s lead, though.
Six years ago at Pinehurst No. 2, Browne shared the U.S. Open’s first- and second-round leads. After 54 holes, he was tied for second. A final-round 80, though, left him tied for 23rd.
So Browne had every reason to act ho-hum early Thursday evening. When asked why he appeared that way, Browne countered with a question.
Are you ready to give me the trophy today? Browne said.
No, replied the reporter.
That’s why, Browne replied.
One round. Three more to go.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.