Entering 36-Hole Marathon, Field Aiming For Jacobsen, Stadler
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Town and Country, Mo. – Now the real fun begins.
Reaching the midway point of the U.S. Senior Open at Bellerive Country Club Saturday, the championship will shift into warp speed Sunday in which 36 holes of golf could determine a winner.
"Flip a coin, boys, it'll be a shootout [Sunday]," said Hale Irwin. "We might run out of bullets at the end."
A crammed leader board showed Peter Jacobsen and Craig Stadler at the top with 7-under 135s, clinging to a one-stroke lead over Jose Maria Canizares, who sandwiched together 3-under 68s through the first two rounds.
Sixty players made the cut, which was established at 4-over 146. It marked the lowest cut in Senior Open history, breaking the previous low of 5-under 147 at Saucon Valley Country Club (The Old Course) in 2000.
Twenty-four participants were under par through the first two rounds. One amateur, Pat Tallent, made the cut.
The top 10, all within range of making noise, are 4-under 138 or better. Of the top 10, only Irwin has won a Senior Open. And if you like reaches, nine of the top 19 have won a major championship on either the PGA Tour or Champions Tour.
"You can pick one of 10 guys," said Jacobsen. "Somebody may win the tournament who's not on the leader board right now."
Jacobsen set the bar early in the day, limping in on his surgically-repaired hip with a 1-under 70. Canizares closed to within a stroke of the lead when he birdied his final three holes. But Stadler, starting the round at 5 under, proved to be the savviest suitor to catch Jacobsen, which he finally did on the 15th hole with a 7-foot birdie putt.
|Peter Jacobsen watches a ball in flight during his 1-under 70 round Saturday. (John Mummert/USGA)
On a gorgeous sunny but sticky day, a complete turnaround from torrential rain that flooded parts of Bellerive on Friday, the course was in tip-top shape with few troublesome areas. The second round, washed out Friday, was moved to Saturday with the final two rounds being contested Sunday.
Sunday's forecast calls for temperatures near 90 with high humidity.
The course was so supple Saturday that "it was like walking in soft sand on a beach," said Tom Kite, one of five players tied at 5-under 137.
By the time Stadler got to tee it up, the sun was in the process of drying out the course and making greens less receptive. He thought the greens "were a hair quicker" as opposed to the same ones played earlier in the day.
A front nine that produced one bogey and eight pars left Stadler in sour spirits by the time he made the turn. Much of it had to do with poorly executed iron shots. Yet en route to the 2-under 69 round, Stadler finished strong. At the halfway point he's registered just one bogey.
"I guess frustrating is a good word it when you play like crap," said Stadler in describing his first nine holes.
Jacobsen, attempting to become the first wire-to-wire champion since Simon Hobday in 1994, was simply a model of perseverance. Making the turn at 8 under, the wily Oregonian began leaking oil just about the time his hip started stiffening.
On the fifth fairway, his 14th hole of the round, Jacobsen squatted, tugged and stretched awkwardly to relieve building stiffness in the left hip that underwent surgery three months.
All the wear and tear on the hip from torque-and-plant circumstances led to the procedure. Doctors drilled three holes in the hip and reattached the labrum, a process that has been done on other athletes. Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fielder, NHL superstar Mario Lemieux and golfers Jonathan Byrd, Steve Elkington, Greg Norman and Jesper Parnivek have undergone the same surgery.
After missing a 3-footer for birdie on the third hole, he lipped a 3-footer on the on the par-5 fourth, which led to a three-putt and bogey. He followed that up with another bogey on the par-4 fifth. He chipped on the sloping green from the back fringe rough and watched the ball slide over a shelf, finally stopping 15 feet below the hole. He couldn't save par, leaving the putt 2 feet short.
However, he plugged the dam with an important 12-footer for birdie on the robust 190-yard, par 3 sixth.
"Anytime you come back with a birdie on six, that's going to settle you down," said Jacobsen.
The day's best round belonged to British Senior Open champ Pete Oakley, D.A. Weibring and Fuzzy Zoeller, who carded 5-under 66s. Weibring (5-under 137) and Zoeller (5-under 137) put themselves in contention. The fact that Zoeller is near the top is all the more amazing considering that he hit just six fairways while scrambling to a bogey-free round.
Bob Gilder and Jay Haas were tied for third with Kite, Weibring and Zoeller.
Haas was able to crack a smile after his 1-under 70 round. Two bogeys on his front nine left him concerned. He said he didn't panic but knew he couldn't absorb any more without any birdies. He got hot, birdieing the second, third and fourth holes. He knocked in back-to-back 15-footers on two and three before barely missing an eagle from 45 feet well below the hole on No. 4.
|Jay Haas started shaky, but came alive on his back nine to stay in contention. (John Mummert/USGA)
He knows he's in a dogfight.
"It's fun," said Haas. "A lot of these guys over the years that I've played against, competed against, I've been on the outside looking in plenty of times."
Jacobsen suggested that with the soft conditions, someone could shoot a 63 or 64 on Sunday to take a commanding lead.
If history holds true, Jacobsen and Stadler probably won't win. That's because five of the previous 24 Senior Opens have been won by a player holding the lead after 36 holes. The last time it happened was in 1996 at Canterbury Golf Club when Dave Stockton won.
Irwin, incidentally, holds the Senior Open record for the lowest final two rounds, shooting consecutive 65s at Saucon Valley in 2000.
"I don't think we'll see a 63, but we might," said Irwin. "If someone is going to shoot 65-65 [Sunday], I want to see them walk up that last hole. Someone will probably have to carry them."
Canizares, Kite and Zoeller are also aware that with 36 holes to play, it's anyone's championship to win.
"[Sunday] I've got new legs, new head, new everything for the second 18 holes," said Canizares, who had a bogey-free round.
Kite's key was that he took just 25 putts. He started feeling as though momentum was on his side after birdieing two of his last four holes.
"A lot of times when you play 18 holes and shoot a good round," said Kite, "you wish you could keep going. Now you get that opportunity to keep going."
For now, though, all eyes are on Jacobsen and Stadler.
"I would argue that Stadler does have some hardware," said Irwin. "He's got a Masters jacket that may not fit him, but he's got a green jacket.
Players are sympathetic to Jacobsen's plight, but only so much.
Haas had a plan in mind.
"I might take him down and do a little one-on-one at the hotel maybe," said Haas to laughter.
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.