In just his second U.S. Senior Open start, Vijay Singh is standing above the rest through 18 holes at Scioto Country Club, firing a 4-under-par 66 to lead by two strokes over five players on a Thursday that was equal parts hot and humid.
Singh, 53, showed precision from tee to green throughout his morning round, missing just one fairway and two greens. His lone bogey came on his penultimate hole, the par-3 17th, which played as the second-toughest hole on the course Thursday. Singh’s tee shot settled to the right of the green, leaving him in a spot from which he could not get up and down. He rebounded nicely, hitting his approach shot on the par-4 18th to 3 feet to set up a closing birdie.
“I heard a lot about [Scioto] before coming over here. I never played it. Everybody said it was a tough test, and it is. It's a very tough test of golf,” Singh said of the Donald Ross layout where Jack Nicklaus learned the game. “Any time Jack loves a golf course, it must be good. It's a golf course that you never get tired of playing, I think.”
A steady start set the Fijian up for success, as he parred the first five holes before taking advantage of the par-5 sixth, which played as the easiest hole on Thursday. Singh, who averaged 311 yards off the tee in Round 1, had just a 5-iron for his second shot on the 559-yard hole and put it comfortably on the green to set up a two-putt birdie, the first of five circles on his scorecard.
Despite being age-eligible for the championship since 2013, Singh’s only other start in the Senior Open was in 2014, when he finished tied for fifth at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla. He still competes full-time on the PGA Tour and had made just nine previous starts on the PGA Tour Champions. Playing with the 50-and-over crowd after competing week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour may sound like a bit of a break for some, but Singh hasn’t looked at it that way.
“Every time I tee it up [in senior events], if I don't win, I'm really disappointed. So I put a lot more pressure on myself, and that's not very good,” said Singh. “I force myself to play well over here instead of just playing. So my attitude this week is just go and play and see what happens.”
Singh’s score was indicative of the opportunity players had to post solid numbers throughout Round 1, despite a heat index that hovered around 100 throughout the day. Twelve players broke par on Thursday, among them Joey Sindelar, an Ohio State University alumnus who is enjoying great local support this week, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is a fan favorite wherever he plays around the world. Jimenez, who was in the third group of the day, birdied two of his first three holes and parred the rest to post a drama-free 68. The native of Spain missed just two fairways, and hit all but one green to head into Round 2 squarely in contention.
“This golf course demands a lot of that, hitting very good from the tee. And I'm hitting good shots to the green. It's not easy to put it in close. It's not easy to putt [here],” Jimenez said. “The weather is good. It's perfect. It's hot, humid. This heat is going to drain a lot from you and probably [make things] more difficult, not because the course is more difficult, but the situation for the players that will be there at the end of the weekend.”