A pair of senior major-championship winners and the oldest competitor at last month’s U.S. Open all carded 3-under-par 67s to grab the clubhouse lead midway through Thursday’s first round of the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club.
Kenny Perry, the winner of the Constellation Senior Players Championship two weeks ago, 2009 Senior PGA champion Michael Allen and Jay Don Blake managed the difficult terrain on the 6,659-yard, par-70 layout for a one-stroke lead over 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer, Rocco Mediate, Peter Senior and Chien Soon Lu.
Seven other players, including Jeff Sluman and Colin Montgomerie, carded 1-under 70s.
Defending champion Roger Chapman and Fred Couples were among the competitors in Thursday’s afternoon wave.
Blake, 54, said he benefited from having qualified for last month’s U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, where the demanding course setup, especially the thick rough, was excellent preparation for the Senior Open. Several of the competitors this week have said the primary rough at Omaha Country Club is some of the toughest they’ve seen.
“It helped a lot,” said Blake, the 1980 NCAA champion who missed the cut at Merion with rounds of 74-80. “I lost my patience out there. I was trying to be aggressive instead of just executing one shot at a time and trying to play my game. I learned quite a bit.”
Blake, who totaled 25 putts, took advantage of the three par 5s at Omaha, playing them in four under par. At the 545-yard sixth hole, he holed a 12-footer for eagle after leaving himself a 6-iron second shot into the green. Blake called his par-save at the 320-yard 17th hole crucial. He short-sided himself in a greenside bunker with his approach and holed his longest putt of the day – a 15-footer – for a clutch 4.
“Coming down the stretch, I finished with some good scrambling pars,” said Blake.
Allen also took advantage of the par-5s with a birdie (No. 14) and an eagle, which came on his second hole-out of the outward nine. At the par-3 third, the 54-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., made a 20-foot chip for a 2, and on No. 6, he holed a 25-yard shot from the rough.
“If you can get the ball in play, there's a lot of wedge holes out here,” said Allen. “You can make some birdies for sure. And the par 5s, if you're driving it straight, you can reach most all of them.”
One of the longest drivers on the Champions Tour, Perry used his length to advantage. At the par-5 sixth, he needed only a 9-iron for his second shot, which he stuffed to 4½ feet, but missed the eagle putt.
He finished his round with five birdies against two bogeys, one coming on a three-putt at the par-3 fifth hole.
Perry, who had left-knee surgery in February, said that the steep downhill walks from several of the teeing grounds have been a challenge. Playing golf shots, however, has not been an issue for the 52-year-old Kentucky native.
“I managed it OK,” said Perry, who made the cut at last week’s PGA Tour stop at The Greenbrier. “So we'll take some Tylenol and keep on trucking.
“I've been driving it great all year. [I] drove it great at Fox Chapel [at the Senior Players Championship], drove it great last week at The Greenbrier. It’s been this new driver [that] I put … in play about two months ago. It automatically put length on me, and [added] accuracy. It's really freed me up off the tee. That's why I'm playing more aggressive.”