By Jared Trexler
United States Senior Open Championship Blog -- Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kansas
9:27 A.M. (et) - It's just before 8:30 a.m. at Prairie Dunes and play has been underway for almost one hour at Perry Maxwell's Midwestern masterpiece. Before the championship began, Ben Crenshaw called the course a "work of art." Tom Watson called it "a minefield." Jim Thorpe pleaded for Mr. Maxwell to "stick to making coffee."
Various player perceptions don't take away from the fact that the 66406-yard, par-70 is a true test of golf. With great players like Jay Haas, Hale Irwin and Curtis Strange the tour is in great shape. Add the over-50 circuit debut of fan-favorite Fred Funk and the championship has a quality field.
Sadly, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman pulled out on the eve of championship week. Palmer's game isn't in competitive shape, and probably never will be again. Norman is only weeks into practicing after a significant layoff due to knee surgery. He says the knee is fine, but the game isn't there yet. Factor in a pending divorce and I can see why The Shark decided against coming to Prairie Dunes.
Tournament officials were skeptical of Norman's entry from the beginning but held out hope. Ticket sales reached record levels partly due to two legends of the game that aren't here this week. They will be missed from a professional standpoint, and more importantly, from a marketing standpoint.
It's a warm morning with a light wind. A perfect opportunity for the early starters in make some hay before finding plenty of it later in the week.
Four men, including Brad Bryant, are tied for the lead at one-under. Loren Roberts made a bogey-five at the long par-4 11th and sits at one-over in early action.
Coverage begins on ESPN at 2 p.m. (et), but I'll be back with news, notes and scores far before then.
10:04 a.m. (et) - Vicente Fernandez has always been an expert with the flat blade. He already has a pair of "2" on his card and only six putts through the opening four holes. Tom Wargo, one of the initial Senior Tour players, is one-under very early in his round. The Boss of the Moss has gone on a string of three pars following the bogey at the 11th hole, a diabolical par 4 with no let-up. It plays into a north wind, albeit only a slight breeze at the moment. More than anything else the hole is long, especially by senior standards. Coupled with hole number nine -- and depending where the USGA decides to put the tees each day -- it is the longest par-4 on the golf course.
For those looking for a Fred Funk update, the just turned 50 year old tees off at 1:58 p.m. By that time I expect someone will have posted or is finishing up a 66. These players better get the scoring while the scoring is good, the course will only get tougher from here.
11:40 a.m. (et) - He of the CBS Sports ilk stands atop the leaderboard at the United States Senior Open. No, it's not Bobby Clampett. Or teaching guru Peter Kostis. Nor is it Jim Nantz, though Nantz is a solid amateur player who learned the craft from roommate Fred Couples while in college at Houston.
It is Gary McCord, three-under through eight holes and coming off back-to-back birdies. McCord is joined at the top by Vicente Fernandez, who is three-under at the turn. I wonder if the Masters will invite McCord to play -- since they banned him from announcing the event after comparing the Augusta greens to bikini wax -- if he is the reigning Senior Open champion.
Hey, a writer can dream.
Updates on two early-tournament favorites: Loren Roberts is +2 through 10 holes, while Jay Haas is coming off back-to-back birdies to move to one-under through seven holes.
Conditions are still ideal for scoring and I expect a 66 to be carded by at least one individual from the morning wave...
It's time for lunch.
1:35 p.m. (et) - No one has yet reached my magic number (four-under) as Japan's Massy Kuramoto just (as I type) made bogey at the 16th to back up into a host of players at two-under. That group includes Jay Haas, who still has a golden birdie opportunity at the par-5 17th and is looking straight in the face at 67.
Gary McCord's mustache is curling up after dropping strokes at an alarming rate on the front nine (his back). After fashioning an outward nine of 32, McCord has preceded to bogey four of five holes to slide down to one-over.
Loren Roberts +1 through 16
Peter Jacobsen +3 through 15
Bobby Wadkins +4 through 14
I'm starting to get concerned about my projected number as it seems players are having a difficult time reading these greens. Driving is also at a premium, especially for seniors who don't necessarily have the strength to muscle a ball out of this rough.
An interesting comment by Fred Funk earlier in the week, stating that the rough in spots here was thicker and more difficult than the rough at Winged Foot. If Funk is accurate in that assessment, shank could be the word of the week if players try to get greedy out of the think hay at The Dunes.
Another update comes when our good friends at ESPN come on the air.
2:10 p.m. (et) - 6th shortest course in United States Senior Open history, which explains why short hitters like Dave Barr and Bruce Lietzke are fairing well in round one. Tom Watson, a Kansas native, just missed the fairway at the opening hole in pursuit of his first USGA championship.
Dana Quigley thinks he is in Hawaii with the colorful outfit and just birdied the 18th to shot an even par-70. Haas is now coming up the 18th trying to post a three-under 67 (it will be tough since he missed the fairway).
If as a viewer you are looking for stories to follow over ESPN's four hours of coverage consider the following:
1) the rounds of Watson and Fred Funk
2) How the players deal with the undulating greens at the Dunes
3) Count how many 3 woods are used to keep tee shots from going through the doglegs.
The short course becomes longer because it forces players to think off the tee, and in many cases use utility woods and long irons.
The wind is blowing slightly harder this afternoon so scores (while not low in the morning) will be higher this afternoon.
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Copyright 2006 The Phanatic