After Second-Round 66, Buckeye Sindelar Is Halfway Home August 12, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Joey Sindelar carded five birdies on his way to a 4-under 66 on Friday, which puts him in front by a stroke after 36 holes. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

U.S. Senior Open Home

Playing a home game can work both ways. A player can take confidence and comfort from the familiar surroundings, or be hampered by the heightened expectations and the well-wishers at every turn.

Joey Sindelar came to Scioto Country Club for the 37th U.S. Senior Open Championship as one of four former Ohio State University players in the field, and so far, being back in Columbus is working out very nicely for the amiable Buckeye.

Sindelar shot a 4-under-par 66 in Round 2 on Friday, which gave him a two-round total of 5-under 135 and a one-stroke lead over PGA Tour Champions rookie Billy Mayfair at the halfway point.

“Several guys – Mark O’Meara comes to mind – have played lots of great golf at their hometown events, and others don’t,” said Sindelar, who was part of the Buckeyes’ 1979 NCAA Championship-winning team. “There’s so much to do when you’re around so many friends that care for you. There’s tickets, there’s other stuff. It gets busy. Some guys don’t do well.”

Although a native of Fort Knox, Ky., Sindelar grew up in Horseheads, N.Y., outside Elmira, and he was able to draw from positive experiences competing in – and twice winning – the B.C. Open on the PGA Tour in nearby Endicott, N.Y.

“It’s been a good thing for me through the years, and a fun week so far,” said Sindelar, 58, who won seven times in a long PGA Tour career but is winless on the PGA Tour Champions, having lost much of two seasons due to back surgery in 2012. He finished second in the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, which Fred Funk won by six strokes.

Sindelar put together nines of 33-33 to match Vijay Singh for the low round of the championship. Singh, the first-round leader by two strokes, struggled to a 5-over 75 on Friday and slipped six strokes off the pace, in a tie for eighth.

“I could have very easily been even par today, but I got some bad breaks and didn’t putt as well,” said Singh, 53, who is playing in his second Senior Open. “I didn’t play as bad as what the score reads. With the wind conditions, if you miss a shot, you’re going to be punished.”

Singh was part of Friday’s afternoon wave, during which the course firmed up and was buffeted by breezes that prevented all but two players from breaking Scioto’s par of 70 – Tom Byrum and amateur Chip Lutz, both with 1-under 69s. Lutz, 61, the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion who last week captured his third Seniors Amateur Championship at Formby, England, was the only amateur of the 23 in the field to make the 36-hole cut, which fell at 7-over 147.

For Mayfair, life after 50 is pretty sweet so far. He marked a half-century on Aug. 6, meaning that the first event he was eligible for as a 50-year-old was the Senior Open. It would be fair to say that the Scottsdale, Ariz., native, who won the 1987 U.S. Amateur as well as five events on the PGA Tour, was looking forward to the milestone birthday.

“I don't think my feet touched the ground [that day],” said Mayfair, the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion. “I’ve been waiting for this for about two to three years. I knew this was going to be the place where I was going to debut, and I can’t think of a better place to come to than where Jack Nicklaus learned the game.”

Mayfair opened with a 1-under 69 and improved to 67 on Friday morning, finishing off by knocking a 6-iron from 180 yards to 10 feet and making the birdie putt on the 435-yard, par-4 18th hole.

“Anytime you put the words USGA in front of a tournament – first of all, they’re going to be the best venues you're ever going to find, and they're going to be set up very difficult,” said Mayfair, whose best finish in 14 U.S. Opens was a tie for fifth in 2002 at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course. “You’ve got to drive the ball well. You’ve got to hit good, smart iron shots, and you’ve got to position the ball on the green really well.”

Billy Mayfair is the youngest player in the field, and is in prime position to win the U.S. Senior Open in his championship debut after 36 holes. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Mayfair has a habit of switching out his golf ball after making a bogey. He played Thursday with the same ball, and played with the same ball he started the day on Friday until he bogeyed the par-3 13th, a stretch of 30 holes.

“If you can get to a USGA event – any event, really, but especially here, and you’re making pars and don't make any bogeys, you're playing pretty good,” said Mayfair, who played several events on the Web.com Tour in the past two years in preparation for his senior major debut. “Yesterday afternoon, when that wind was blowing about 15, 20 knots and that golf course got hard and firm, I thought it was playing just as difficult and as challenging – if a little bit shorter – as Bethpage and all the other U.S. Opens.”

Gene Sauers, the 2014 runner-up in this championship, is alone in third at 3-under 137 after rounds of 68-69, while Stephen Ames, of Canada; Glen Day, of Little Rock, Ark.; and Miguel Angel Jimenez, of Spain, were in a three-way tie for fourth place at 2-under 138. Michael Allen, of San Mateo, Calif., is alone in seventh, the only other player under par at 139.

Also making the cut were Sindelar’s fellow Buckeyes Brian Mogg (146) and Rod Spittle (147), while John Cook bogeyed his final two holes to miss the cut by one stroke at 148. Singh was joined in the six-way tie for eighth by 2015 champion Jeff Maggert and 2011 champion Olin Browne.

Eight-time major champion Tom Watson, a three-time runner-up in this championship, is at 2-over 142, while 2010 Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer and 2014 Senior Open champion Colin Montgomerie are at 3-over 143.

Two-time major champion John Daly, who was making his Senior Open debut, played 2-under golf on his first 13 holes on Thursday, but played 13 over on the rest of his holes to finish at 11-over 151.    Due to forecasted thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon, starting times for the third round were moved up to the morning (7:45 – 9:30 a.m.) and the 63 players making the cut will go off in groups of three from the first and 10th tees.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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