Round 2: Five Things to Watch For June 29, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass. By Dave Shedloski

Olin Browne made nine birdies, tying a U.S. Senior Open record, during his first round at Salem Country Club on Thursday. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Mother Nature has been kind to competitors in USGA championships the past few weeks. And the players have been taking full advantage of it.

The rain-softened turf and little wind two weeks ago at Erin Hills during the U.S. Open yielded a record-tying 16-under-par 272 total by winner Brooks Koepka. On Thursday in the 38th U.S. Senior Open, amid an eerily similar set of conditions, Kirk Triplett fired an opening 8-under 62 at Salem Country Club, tying Loren Roberts for the low round in USGA Open championship history.

While it might sound pretty cool to most golfers, the 55-year-old Triplett didn’t seem too impressed with tying a USGA record and setting the competitive course record at Salem. He said that seeing low scores during morning play helped him realize the Donald Ross layout was gettable. Of course, he got it better than anyone, leading the 40 players who finished under par.

“I do know what it means. But it's so dependent on the conditions,” Triplett said of his effort. “Everybody wants to talk about scores. You know, some 68s are better than 62s, right? You can look on the leader board, and there's a lot of guys who shot 4, 5, 6 under today. So, you know that the course was susceptible to scoring.”

Could that continue today? Maybe. Here are five things to watch for in Round Two:

  • Birdies. Lots of them: Maybe not as many as in Thursday’s opening round, when the field combined for 388 birdies, but little wind and overcast skies kept the difficult greens soft. And although it will be warmer on Friday, cloud cover is supposed to prevail into the afternoon, which means players can still be aggressive on approach shots, if they’re playing from the fairway. And now that they see what’s possible, bold play might be a given. “There were some good scores in the morning,” Triplett said. “I think those of us in the afternoon went out with a more aggressive mindset.” No reason to abandon it.
  • Jammed leader board: Hard to believe anyone is going to pull away with so many scoring opportunities at their disposal. Sure, Triplett and Olin Browne, who fired a 63, could get some separation in Friday’s morning wave, but the more likely scenario is that a large group is going to be jockeying for position. There are 21 players within five strokes of the lead after 18 holes.
  • Triplett and Browne: As just witnessed in the recently completed U.S. Open at Erin Hills, in Wisconsin, players who went low one day struggled the next. Let’s see if the senior set has better luck bouncing back with something under par. Browne, the 2011 winner at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, followed up an opening 64 that year with rounds of 69 and 65.
  • The cut: The record low cut in the championship is 144 in that 2011 championship at Inverness, which could be threatened if scoring trends hold. The low 60 scores and ties advance to the final two rounds, and among those who have some work to do today are past winners Allen Doyle, Peter Jacobsen and defending champion Gene Sauers.
  • Corey Pavin: After missing the 2016 championship at Scioto Country Club due to an elbow injury, Pavin, despite a bogey at the last, opened with a solid 66. The 1995 U.S. Open champion hasn’t been quite himself yet this year, but he has never finished worse than T-26 in the U.S. Senior Open. He can join an elite group if he were to win. Only seven men have ever captured the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open titles. That list: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Billy Casper and Orville Moody.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.

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