Thus far, the 40th U.S. Senior Open Championship has had a similar feel as the U.S. Open two weeks prior at Pebble Beach Golf Links. The weather has been the players’ friend, giving them ripe conditions for scoring.
During Thursday’s opening round, the air was warm, muggy and still, and the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, inundated by an inch of overnight rain, had little defense. The result was that 42 players broke par, breaking the previous record of 40 at Salem Country Club two years earlier where, coincidentally, precipitation also was a factor. All that low scoring takes a certain mindset.
“You’re going to have guys going low every single day if conditions stay like this,” said Jerry Kelly, the winner of last week’s American Family Insurance Championship.
That’s certainly among the things to look for in Friday’s second round. Here’s what to expect as the day unfolds:
Scores reflected what can happen on a soft course, even one with some teeth. It wasn’t just what David Toms did to the place on Thursday, reeling off 10 birdies in a record-tying 62 that later was matched by Steve Stricker, but the field as a whole had a heyday. And many players didn’t expect the saturated layout to be appreciably firmer for Friday’s second round. The lowest cut in U.S. Senior Open history is 1 over-141 at Salem Country Club in 2017. That record surely is in jeopardy with 61 players at even par or better (the low 60 and ties qualify for the weekend). Friday might indicate what other scoring records are ripe for being picked off as the championship progresses.
Fifth and Long
The par-3 fifth hole played 239 yards on Thursday, making it the second-longest in U.S. Senior Open history. Not surprisingly, it was the most difficult on the day with a scoring average of 3.361. Only nine players made birdie, while there were 61 scores of bogey and higher. The hole had its effect on the leader board; six of the top seven players made birdie or par. The desire for a variety of lengths on the par 3s will ensure that the hole remains the longest of the short holes. It’s not only difficult, but also entertaining, and it caps a three-hole stretch that is the most taxing portion of the layout.
Coming off the lowest opening round by a defending champion – by four shots, no less – David Toms appears primed for a rigorous title defense. He’ll begin the second round at 2:28 p.m. EDT, and he’ll likely no longer have the lead that he shares with Stricker. How he responds to the scoring that occurs on Friday morning will make for fascinating golf. Toms’ 10 birdies on Thursday were the most in the field and a championship record. Every winner in the last 10 years has been inside the top 10 on the leader board after 36 holes. That’s Toms’ goal for Round 2, but it’s always difficult to follow up a low round with another one.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer whose work appears regularly on USGA digital channels.