SAMMAMISH - The big names all made mini-charges Friday, then fell back at the 31st U.S. Senior Open.
So leave it to a club professional to try to stare down Germany’s Bernhard Langer in his quest to win senior major golf championships on back-to-back weekends.
Langer, the man with the cool, calm nerves and the seemingly impenetrable exterior, fired another round in the 60s – this time a 2-under-par 68 – and has a two-stroke lead at Sahalee Country Club.
It was a quirky day on the picture-perfect layout, where the 1998 PGA Championship was played. It started with a 21/2-hour fog delay, which pushed afternoon tee times to a dusk finish.
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And it ended with an unexpected blowup by first-round leader Bruce Vaughan, who shot an 82 to barely make the cut.
Only four men – Langer (3-under 137), J.R. Roth (139), John Cook (139) and Tommy Armour III (139) – are under par.
Heavy hitters at even-par 140 include Seattle’s Fred Couples (70 on Friday), Tom Watson (70) and Loren Roberts (72).
The challengers know they are in a predicament. Langer doesn’t appear to be losing steam coming off his Senior British Open victory last week, and he remains the steadiest performer of the bunch.
If he continues in that groove, challengers will have to take risks to try to make birdies – which could be a costly venture with Sahalee CC, playing as firm as a tabletop.
“It’s a tough course,” Couples said. “There’s a lot of funny shots where you’re trying to do … unbelievable things, or just different things.”
Langer’s 35-foot eagle putt at the 11th hole Friday will, no doubt, be the highlight everyone sees. But his round was saved time and time again by lengthy par-saving putts.
Out of the bunker at the 12th, he canned a 16-footer to save par. Three holes later, he saved with a curling 18-footer.
“That was pretty key,” Langer said.
And his 6-iron tee shot at the par-3 17th stopped pin-high, and he rolled in a 10-footer for birdie to create a little cushion atop the leaderboard.
Roth, who went out in the same morning wave, has been known around his home state of Michigan to get hot and post low scores. His 66, capped by a 35-foot birdie on the last hole, was the best round posted Friday.
“It was just a phenomenal round,” said Roth, now the head professional at San Juan Country Club in Farmington, N.M.
Roberts was the one who actually moved into a tie with Langer with his birdie on the second hole. But he finished his front nine with a bogey, then hit a tree and faced a disastrous lie in the rough on the 15th en route to a double bogey.
“Shoot, I played as good as I played (Thursday),” Roberts said. “One bad swing.”
Couples’ game wasn’t sharp coming into this week, and that has carried over. Bad swings with the irons, and wild results, got him in constant trouble.
Yet, a late birdie on the 16th salvaged his even-par 70.
“I made enough birdies to keep this thing going,” Couples said. “I’m hanging good.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org blogs.thenewstribune.com/golf/