CREVE COEUR – Soft greens, humid air and virtually no wind provided the perfect condition for a blur of red numbers to appear on the scoreboards at Bellerive Country Club during the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday.
Twenty-six players finished under par, the second highest number of such scores in the first round of a Senior Open in the tournament’s 25-year history, and Peter Jacobsen and Craig Stadler used a barrage of birdies to climb to the top of the leader board heading into today’s second round.
Jacobsen made four birdies during a six-hole stretch on the back nine to help him shoot a 65 and take a one-stroke lead against Stadler. Jay Haas, the fan favorite from Belleville, Ill., shot a 67 and is two strokes back.
The mantra from most players coming off the course Thursday was that though Bellerive is long and difficult, the softness of the greens allowed players to fire away at the flagsticks and shoot surprisingly low scores.
“I think everything from tee to green is tough, but maybe the greens are a little softer than they wanted them,” Haas said. “You can throw the ball right at the hole, which is pretty unlike the U.S. Open.”
After the USGA’s debacle during the final round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., last month, where several greens dried out, rendering the course nearly unplayable, a handful of players hinted that the USGA might be trying to avoid making the same mistake.
“These greens are as soft as I’ve seen at a U.S. Open,” Jacobsen said.
Although Stadler’s impressive 66 came as no surprise given the fact he has two wins on the Champions Tour this year, Jacobsen’s round was amazing.
Jacobsen withdrew from last week’s Senior British Open after playing in a pro-am before the tournament because of complications from surgery he had on his left hip several months ago. Jacobsen also withdrew from the Ford Senior Players Championship last month for the same reason.
“I’m simply in the middle of my rehab and coming back from being on crutches for five or six weeks I have to learn how to walk again,” Jacobsen said. “It’s been very frustrating for me having played in those pro-ams and then having to withdraw because I’m shot on Wednesday, so this is a huge boost for me.”
Stadler, who hit all but two greens in regulation and had a bogey-free round, birdied four of his first nine holes and had a steady back nine to come into the clubhouse as the leader early in the morning.
“I hit a lot of good iron shots today and didn’t really make many mistakes,” Stadler said. “I just didn’t really get into trouble at all.”
Haas was playing a boring, if not disappointing round until he came to the final two holes. After missing birdie putts on the first seven holes on the back and settling for pars, Haas birdied the 17th and hit his approach shot on the 18th hole to four feet and made another birdie much to the delight of the large gallery that followed him throughout the day.
“When I hit that shot in on 18 I would have thought it was the U.S. Open, not the U.S. Senior Open,” Haas said. “In all, I was a little frustrated on the back that I didn’t get more birdies but birdieing the last two holes always feels a lot better.”