|Perry, Lehman in lead group at US Senior Open|
|Friday, July 12, 2013 12:20 AM|
OMAHA, Neb. — It’s never been so crowded at the top of the U.S. Senior Open leaderboard.
When Tom Lehman chipped in from 45 feet on the 18th hole Thursday, he joined six others at 3-under 67 for the first round at the Omaha Country Club.
There had never been as many as seven co-leaders after the opening round of the event. The previous record was five in 1997.
“In one round, 18 holes, it’s like a sprint,” Lehman said. “Over the course of four rounds, which is more like a marathon, things really do spread out. The field will thin out.”
Kenny Perry shot a 67 in the morning, putting together a solid start in his bid for a second straight win in a senior major. Michael Allen and Jay Don Blake also were 3 under after their morning rounds; Gary Hallberg, Mark O’Meara, Fred Funk and Lehman came in with the same score in the afternoon.
The hilly 6,700-yard course took a toll on the field of golfers age 50 and older, especially in the afternoon as temperatures reached the upper 80s with a light breeze. The small and undulating greens browned up in the heat and proved dicey.
“When you get tough conditions and you’re playing good, you get rewarded,” Funk said. “More than likely, the guy that’s playing the best in these kind of conditions will be at the top. Hopefully, it will be me.”
Perry, who won the Senior Players Championship two weeks ago at Fox Chapel, Pa., made five birdies against two bogeys.
The season points leader started on the back nine and had birdies on three of his first eight holes. He hit an 8-iron to within 10 feet on the par-3 11th, drove the green on the 312-yard, par-4 13th and hit hybrid-pitching wedge on the 319-yard, par-4 17th and made his 15-foot putt.
He birdied both par-5s on his second nine but came away a bit disappointed after missing a 5-foot eagle putt on No. 6.
“I took care of the par 5s today and drove it nicely, kept it in the fairway, kept it in play,” Perry explained. “Like I said yesterday, if I hit it in the fairway, I really like my chances on this golf course.”
Lehman, the 2012 Champions Tour points and money leader, overcame a bogey on No. 8 with three birdies on the back nine — none bigger than the one on 18.
His second shot came to rest in thick grass to the right of the green. He used an 8-iron for his chip and watched it roll downhill slowly into the cup for what ranked as the shot of the day.
“The lie was a little bit squirrely,” Lehman said. “The grass was growing against the ball so it’s easy to kind of not catch it cleanly. I took less loft and kind of hit it a little bit thin. Once it gets out on the green, it’s going to get down there.”
Chien Soon Lu, Peter Senior, Rocco Mediate and 2010 champion Bernhard Langer shots 68s. Colin Montgomerie, who turned 50 last month and is playing in his second senior event, was in a pack that was two shots behind.
Defending champion Roger Chapman struggled with his putter and was seven shots behind after a 74.
Tom Watson, who played with Langer and Montgomerie and drew the largest galleries of the day, struggled with his irons while shooting a 70 that included one birdie and one bogey.
“I hit a few good shots today but for the most part, my shots weren’t very solid,” Watson said. “One good thing about it was that I got about the best score I possibly could out of my round.”
Fred Couples, coming off three straight runner-up finishes on the Champions Tour, had a 1-over 71.
Couples, like others, had difficulty figuring out the speed of the greens. The recent heat wave has put stress on them and warmer temperatures are forecast this weekend.
“They’re suffering,” Lehman added. “And there’s differing kinds of grass. That’s probably the biggest thing. It’s not 100 percent pure. So the heat affects them each differently, which is why you see that spotty stuff. That kind of makes the putts really not quite as true as you would hope for.”
JOHN DEERE CLASSIC
SILVIS, Ill. — It took years for Zach Johnson to feel comfortable at his hometown tournament.
These days, Johnson is more relaxed than anyone in the field — and that’s a major reason why he’s in early position to repeat as the champion of the John Deere Classic.
Johnson shot a 7-under 64 and is tied with Camilo Villegas for the lead after Thursday’s opening round of the John Deere Classic.
It was the 17th straight round in the 60s at TPC Deere Run for Johnson, who grew up roughly 100 miles away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Matt Bettencourt made the field as a late alternate and shot a 6-under 65. He’s tied for second with Daniel Summerhays and Brendon de Jonge.
Boo Weekley is among a host of players at 5-under 66, while 3-time tournament champion Steve Stricker is at 4-under 67 heading into today’s second round.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year. Yeah, I just kind of felt like you’re just leading into the next round here,” Johnson said. “I’ve just gotten so used to just everything about this tournament.”
It wasn’t always that way for Johnson.
Johnson finished 69th here five years ago after shooting 75 and 71 in the final two rounds — but he hasn’t touched 70 since.
Johnson, who was second in 2009 and third in 2011 before winning last year, topped his final-round 65 of 2012 by one stroke Thursday. He avoided bogeys while picking up birdies on five par-4s.
Villegas was also very comfortable on a course that proved player-friendly in the morning session. He converted a pair of par-3 birdie putts to highlight a strong day on the greens.
“Made some great putts and just kept out of trouble. The golf course is a little receptive and you could be aggressive,” Villegas said. “I was very pleased with the way I handled myself out there. It was nice, relaxed, chill attitude.”
Stricker entered the tournament as a co-favorite with Johnson, having won at TPC Deere Run from 2009-11. Stricker quickly showed why he’s considered the man the rest of the field could be chasing this weekend.
He just couldn’t keep it going for 18 holes.
De Jonge began his day with the one of the best shots of the tournament so far, holing out from 88 yards for an eagle on the par-5 10th hole. But Stricker matched him on No. 10 just 20 minutes later — chipping in from 83 yards out.
Stricker appeared to be in good shape as he made the turn at 4-under but back-to-back bogeys helped put him three shots back of the leaders.
The most unlikely name among Thursday’s leaders had to be Bettencourt’s.
Sensing this week’s field would be full, Bettencourt booked a flight to Salt Lake City for this weekend’s Web.com event. But as he was sitting on a plane in Atlanta, the PGA Tour office called to tell him that he was eligible to replace Neal Lancaster.
Bettencourt was stuck with a flight to Utah regardless. But he then flew straight to Chicago, rented a car and arrived in the Quad Cities just before midnight.
Bettencourt didn’t need any practice time though. He shot his best round at Deere Run since also opening the 2009 tournament with a 65.
WATERLOO, Ontario — Angela Stanford and Catriona Matthew shot eight-under 63s to share the first-round lead at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic on Thursday, two strokes ahead of top-ranked Inbee Park.
Park is trying to become the first golfer to win four straight LPGA Tour events since Lorena Ochoa in 2008.
Park was joined by American Irene Cho, Spain’s Belen Mozo and South Korea’s Hee Young Park and Meena Lee at 65. American Ryann O’Toole and South Koreans Jenny Shin, Amy Yang and Ji Young Oh were three shots off the lead at 66.
Defending champion Brittany Lang opened with a 69.
Stanford closed her late-evening round with three straight birdies to join Matthew atop the leaderboard under mostly sunny skies at Grey Silo Golf Course
“Today I hit it really good,” Stanford said. “So it was just one of those days that as a golfer you just love.”
Players took advantage of soft conditions early in the day on the 6,330-yard course. Aggressive approach shots were rewarded before the greens started to dry up in the afternoon.
Warm temperatures and sunny skies are in the forecast through the final round of the $1.3-million tournament on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Park oozed confidence as she strolled down the fairways, apparently in complete control of her game on the way to her best first-round score of the season.
“Golf is a sport where you could miss the cut this week and you could win next week,” Park said. “There’s a lot of imbalance in this game and to keep this kind of level going for four weeks, five weeks, six in a row is a very tough thing to do. We really have to be strong mentally, you have to be physically strong.”
Nancy Lopez holds the tour record with five consecutive victories in 1978, a mark tied by Annika Sorenstam over the 2004-05 seasons. Park, who enters the tournament as the tour leader in seven statistical categories, has already won six times this season.
She’s dominating the tour the way players like Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa did over the last decade.