Singh Fights Off Self-Imposed Pressure For Round 1 Lead August 11, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Vijay Singh made five birdies during a warm Thursday morning at Scioto Country Club. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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.”

Miguel Angel Jimenez was comfortable in the Thursday morning heat at Scioto en route to a 2-under 68. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

Jimenez is one of five players who will enter Round 2 two strokes back of the lead, along with 2014 runner-up Gene Sauers, Jeff Gallagher, Michael Allen and Glen Day. Allen's 68 is one to remember. The eight-time PGA Tour Champions winner struggled from tee to green, hitting just 7 of 14 fairways and 7 of 18 greens in regulation, but took just 21 putts, the fewest in this championship since Bob Gilder had 20 in the second round in 2006.

Day was a late addition to the field, getting in as an alternate last week when 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite withdrew. Day played steady golf for his first 14 holes before making an eagle on the sixth hole, to jump up the leader board.

“Obviously, it's our U.S. Senior Open, so you want to play. I was very excited to be in and happy to be here and I played pretty good last week, so I had a lot of confidence," said Day, who finished tied for fifth in the 3M Championship on Sunday. "I scored well. I didn't play very good, but I scored well."

Grouped with former Buckeye teammates John Cook and Rod Spittle for Rounds 1 and 2, Sindelar had it going early in his round, getting to 3 under through six holes before playing the last 12 holes in 2 over to post a 1-under 69. It’s been a good start to the homecoming for the three-time All-American, who was a member of OSU’s 1979 national championship team.

“Great stuff, wonderful, fabulous crowd on that first tee, we just looked around and we couldn’t believe it,” said Sindelar. “To look back and imagine that it’s been 35 years of absolute fun and here we are, in Columbus, at Scioto, at the U.S. Senior Open, it just can’t get any better than this.”

Another fan favorite who acquitted himself quite well on Thursday was John Daly. Making his Senior Open debut, having turned 50 in April, the two-time major champion parred the first 11 holes of the day before making three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey over his last seven holes.

“I actually hit the ball decent today. I made a few putts, but nothing special. It was cool to play pretty much 16 holes bogey-free,” said Daly, who didn’t arrive at Scioto until Wednesday due to travel issues. “I made a few 5- and 6-footers for pars as well, which helped. I had not been putting very good.”

Singh’s 66 matches Dale Douglass and Gary Player for the lowest score at Scioto in a U.S. Senior Open. Both shot theirs in 1986, the only other time the Senior Open was held here, Douglass in Round 1 on his way to victory, and Player in Round 3. Marvin “Vinny” Giles shot 65 in the final round of the 1968 U.S. Amateur, when the championship was conducted at stroke play. That round is the lowest in the four USGA championships conducted at Scioto.

Reigning champion Jeff Maggert had a solid start to his title defense, carding three birdies and three bogeys for an even-par 70 that left him in a tie for 13th place.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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